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The Documents Your Young Adult Child Needs

As a parent, you have always had the ability to make medical decisions for your child, but when your child turns 18 years old and is recognized as a legal adult, that ability disappears. Further, because of health care privacy laws (HIPAA), you also lose access to their medical records, even though you likely took your child to the doctor and were present for the appointments and procedures, picked up prescriptions for them and more.

Unless your child has named you as his or her patient advocate under a patient advocate designation, you can be left powerless at the time your child needs you most. From unexpected illness to sports injuries and auto accidents, too often parents do not realize the need for this important legal document until it is too late and their high school or college student is no longer able to name a patient advocate. Parents in this situation will find themselves in probate court, paying significant fees and losing precious time – but a few simple legal documents are all that you need to prevent this from happening to your family.

Patient Advocate Designation

First, your young adult child should execute a patient advocate designation and living will, naming patient advocates to make medical decisions on his or her behalf in the case of incapacity. No one wants to think about their child passing away but in the living will portion of the same document your child can state his or her preferences for end-of-life scenarios. While never an easy decision, knowing what an individual’s preferences are takes some weight off of those left to make this decision.

Medical Authorization

Your young adult child should also execute a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) medical authorization. The ability to make informed decisions for your child when named as a patient advocate will not do much good if you are not able to get the relevant information about your child’s condition. The HIPAA waiver tells doctors and other medical personnel that they can provide you with your child’s medical information without violating the law. Often, this authorization is included as part of the patient advocate designation and living will.

Financial Power of Attorney

Another important document is a financial power of attorney, which should also be executed so that in the case of your child’s incapacity, you can help with his or her financial affairs, from bills to student loans.

Without these documents, parents must file an action to be appointed guardian of their child in probate court in order to make medical decisions or gain access to medical records. Probate court actions cost money, even without an attorney. Needing to go to probate court can also cause significant delays at a time when every second may count for your child. It would be a safe bet to say that any parent who has ever been in this position would have preferred to have had a patient advocate designation at the ready, prepared before a time of crisis. Likewise, the durable power of attorney can save you from being appointed conservator through a probate court proceeding if you need to handle your child's financial affairs.

We recommend that every adult have these important documents in place. Whether your young adult child is off to college or is turning 18 while in high school, proper planning can protect your child and save you from a probate proceeding during a time of crisis.

© 2022 Varnum LLPNational Law Review, Volume IX, Number 239

About this Author

Christopher J. Caldwell, Estate planning lawyer, Varnum

Chris is a partner and leads Varnum's Estate Planning team. Chris is acutely aware that advising clients on estate planning and wealth succession requires an intimate understanding of the client's goals, hopes, desires, and concerns in order to accurately prepare an appropriate plan. As such, he works intimately with clients and their advisors to create estate plans that enable families to plan for today as well as for future generations. Chris regularly prepares sophisticated estate plans, emphasizing probate avoidance, estate tax planning, and business succession...

Rebecca Wrock Estate Planning Attorney Varnum Law

Rebecca is a member of the Estate Planning Practice Team. She advises clients on all aspects of estate planning and trusts, including probate avoidance, asset protection, special purpose trusts and elder law matters including Medicaid, veterans and special needs planning.

In addition to her law degree, Rebecca holds a Tax LL.M., which allows her to provide an additional level of knowledge critical to estate planning matters. She also has unique focus and experience in planning for companion animals (pet trusts) and has been recognized for her contribution to legal education in this...