By Joe Pujol
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.
Regardless of your feelings, once they reach age 18, your kids become legal adults, and many areas of their lives that were once under your control will be solely their responsibility. And one of the very first items on their to-do list as new adults should be estate planning.
While you may believe that planning is the last thing your kids need to be thinking about, it’s actually the first, because once they turn 18, you no longer have automatic access to their medical records and/or financial accounts should anything happen to them.
Before your kids head out on their own, you should discuss and have them sign the following three documents:
Medical power of attorney is an advance directive that allows your child to grant you (or someone else) the legal authority to make healthcare decisions for them in the event they become incapacitated and cannot make such decisions for themselves.
For example, medical power of attorney would allow you to make decisions about your child’s medical treatment if he or she is knocked unconscious in a car accident or falls into a coma due to an illness. And with a properly drafted medical power of attorney, you will be able to access your child’s medical records, whereas without one you would not.
Should they become incapacitated without a properly executed medical power of attorney, you’d have to petition the court to become their legal guardian. While a parent is typically the court’s first choice for guardian, the court process can be slow—and in medical emergencies, every second counts.
Whereas medical power of attorney allows you to make healthcare decisions on your child’s behalf during their incapacity, a living will provides specific guidance about how your child’s medical decisions should be made while they’re incapacitated, 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, if they ever require it. In addition to documenting how your child wants their medical care handled, 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. For example, if your child is a vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or takes specific supplements, these things should be noted in their living will.
If your child has certain wishes for their medical care, it’s important you discuss these decisions with them and have those wishes documented in a living will to ensure they’re properly carried out.
Should your child become incapacitated, you’ll 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 immediate legal authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying bills, applying for Social Security benefits, and/or managing banking and other financial accounts. Without this document, you’ll have to petition the court for such authority.
As parents, it’s natural to experience anxiety when your kid leaves home, but you’ll at least have peace of mind knowing that he or she will be well taken care of in the event of an unforeseen accident or illness. Contact us today to ensure that if your child ever does need your help, you’ll have the legal authority to provide it.
Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, contact us to schedule your Family Wealth Planning Session. Even if you already have a plan in place, we will review it and help you bring it up to date to avoid heartache for your family. Schedule online today.