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A Better Partnership


Apr 2014
April 09, 2014

High School Graduates Need More Than Gifts: It’s Time for Legal Documents

With graduation season upon us, it is a good time to make sure your child’s legal affairs are in order.  While you may still see your son or daughter as a child, and they may still look to you for guidance and support, parents do not possess the legal authority to make decisions for children 18 and older. This can limit your ability to assist with your child’s medical and financial affairs. These legal limitations can make it doubly hard to provide assistance to children who are heading off to college or travelling.

Everyone 18 and older should have a written patient advocate designation (sometimes called a “medical power of attorney”). If an adult child has a patient advocate designation they can authorize their parents to make medical decisions for the child when the child is unable to do so by him or herself. Your child should also sign a HIPAA form allowing you to access their medical and billing records.

If your child has not signed a patient advocate designation and HIPAA form before leaving for college or travelling and is injured, a medical facility can refuse to give you medical information about your adult child.  This can delay making important decisions and can prevent you from knowing the severity of your child’s medical condition. In the most extreme cases, it can mean having to go to court to be appointed guardian in order to make medical decisions for your child.  If your child has not expressed in writing their desires for end of life treatment, you may be prohibited from terminating or withholding treatment, even if they are in a dire circumstance with no hope of recovery.

High school graduates should also consider signing a durable power of attorney that allows parents to act as a legal agent on their child’s behalf for financial matters. This document can be effective immediately, or only upon the child’s incapacity, and can give you the power to deposit and write checks, assist with loans, sign tax returns, and contact banks or credit card companies if there is a concern with a security breach.

Without a durable power of attorney, parents cannot assist their adult children with these matters.  Further, if your child became incapacitated, you would have to go to court to be appointed conservator to handle their financial affairs.

It’s unpleasant to think about such worst case scenarios, but proper planning and documents can help your graduate be prepared for the future.

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