Watching your kids leave home to attend college or start their career can be an emotional time for you as a parent. On one hand, moving out on their own is a major accomplishment that should make you proud. On the other hand, having your kids leave the nest and face the world can also induce anxiety and fear.
While you may believe that estate planning is the last thing your kids need to be thinking about, it should actually their (and your) number one priority.
Regardless of your feelings, once your kids reach the age of 18 years old, they become legal adults. Many areas of their lives that were once under your control will be solely their responsibility. For example, you will no longer have the authority to make decisions regarding their healthcare and you will not have access to their financial accounts if something happens to them. Therefore, one of the very first items on their to-do list as new adults should be estate planning.
Before your kids head out on their own, you should discuss and have them sign the following three documents:
1. Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney (called a “Designation of Health Care Surrogate” in Florida) is an advance directive that allows your child to grant you (or someone else) the legal authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf in the event they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves.
For example, a medical power of attorney would allow you to make decisions about your child’s medical treatment if he or she is in a car accident or is hospitalized.
Without a medical power of attorney in place, if your child has a serious illness or injury that requires hospitalization and you need access to their medical records to make decisions about their treatment, you would have to petition the court to become their legal guardian. While a parent is typically the court’s first choice for guardian, the guardianship process can be both slow and expensive.
And due to HIPAA laws, once your child becomes 18, no one is legally authorized to access their medical records without prior written permission – even the parents! However, a properly drafted medical power of attorney will include a signed HIPAA authorization, so you can immediately access your child’s medical records to make informed decisions about their healthcare.
2. Living Will
While a medical power of attorney allows you to make healthcare decisions on your child’s behalf during their incapacity, a living will is an advance directive that provides specific guidance about how your child’s medical decisions should be made, particularly at the end of life.
For example, a living will allows your child to let you know if and when they want life support removed should they ever require it. In addition to documenting how your child wants their medical care managed, a living will can also include instructions about who should be able to visit them in the hospital and even what kind of food they should be fed.
This is especially vital if your child has specific dietary preferences. For example, if he or she is a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or takes specific supplements, these things should be noted in their living will. It is also important if you do not know all of their friends or who they would want to be part of their medical decision-making should they become unable to make decisions for themself.
Remember to speak with your child about the unique medical scenarios related to COVID-19, particularly in regards to intubation, ventilators, and experimental medications. How such treatment options can be addressed in a living will can be found in my previous post: Do You Want a Ventilator if You Get Coronavirus?
3. Durable Financial Power of Attorney
Should your child become incapacitated, you may also need the ability to access and manage their finances, and this requires your child to grant you durable financial power of attorney.
Durable financial power of attorney gives you the authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying their tuition, applying for student loans, managing their bank accounts, and collecting government benefits. Without this document, you will have to petition the court for such authority through a guardianship proceeding. As mentioned above, this process is both timely and costly, and completely avoidable with proper planning.
Start Their Adulthood Off Right (and Stop Panicking, Mom & Dad)
As parents, it is natural to experience anxiety when your kid leaves home, but you will at least have the peace of mind knowing that he or she will be well taken care of in the event of an unforeseen accident or illness. Schedule a no-cost initial consultation with me today to discuss further and ensure that if your child ever does need your help, you will have the legal authority to provide it.