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ESSENTIAL LEGAL DOCUMENTS FOR YOUR NEWLY ADULT CHILD – Health Care Directives and Powers of Attorney

For most young people, turning 18 is a formative event.  It often means graduating from high school, going off to college, and/or starting a career.  For parents, it means that their child is no longer a child, figuratively and legally.  Most people recognize that 18 is the age of majority, but few consider how a parent’s legal role in their child’s affairs changes on the child’s 18th birthday.

If an adult child is hospitalized, unprepared parents often encounter refusal by hospitals to provide information regarding their child’s condition, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) which regulates who can receive an adult’s private healthcare information.  Similarly, colleges and financial institutions routinely refuse parental access to the child’s information or accounts without some type of pre-coordinated authorization.

To make matters worse, if an adult child becomes incapacitated or otherwise unable to make his or her own healthcare or financial decisions, parents do not legally step in as decisionmakers for the child by default.  While physicians are bound by duties to provide reasonable care and preserve the health of their patients, a court-appointed guardian may be necessary for the family to dictate more nuanced decisions regarding the care provided.

Families can prepare for and even avoid these difficult situations by having children over age 18 execute Advance Health Care Directives and General Durable Powers of Attorney.  An Advance Health Care Directive names an “agent” who can legally act on the child’s behalf if the child becomes unable to make their own medical decisions.  A General Durable Power of Attorney can enable a designated agent to take financial or legal action for the child, such as paying bills, filing taxes, applying for benefits, and performing many other tasks that can mitigate the impact of unfortunate situations on the child and family.

Without the proper legal documents in place, caring for an adult child may be impeded by the necessity to find a lawyer to initiate guardianship proceedings.  To help avoid this necessity and the associated delays and costs, contact us to prepare and implement the appropriate documents for your family’s situation.