College students, you’re headed (or headed back) to campus in a few weeks, perhaps a long way from home. Let this estate planning lawyer/father of two daughters who are college graduates give you a little advice about something that few consider when loosing the parental collar.
Once you're 18 years old, you're an adult in the eyes of the medical world. That means your doctor/hospital/pharmacist can't, without your permission, share your information with your parents or let them be involved in your treatment.
"Good!", I hear you say. "None of their business if I'm on the pill or getting prescription meds while I’m at school."
No (well, not much) argument here; however, it also means that unless you give your parents authorization ahead of time to make treatment decisions for you in the event you're not able to (called a Medical Power of Attorney, or MPOA), or let them have access to your medical records when necessary, they can't help you. And when you need an MPOA, it's too late to get one.
Situation 1: Imagine you’re in a car accident that renders you unconscious or worse, but not dead. Without an MPOA, after the initial emergency is over, neither your parents nor anybody else can make treatment decisions about your care without going through a huge, complicated process that usually involves the courts and a LOT of expense.
Situation 2: You’re at a bar or a frat party or an initiation event (I know, you’d NEVER drink alcohol before you reached the age of 21, but humor me here) and have so much to drink that you pass out, vomit and aspirate it into your lungs. Think that’s not a medical emergency or that it would never happen? It is, it does, and it has long-lasting complications. Without the MPOA, your parents are back to the expense, the courts and the heartache.
Do yourself - and your family - a favor: get a medical power of attorney before you go (or go back) to school this fall. You can find the form online (I wouldn't recommend this option, but it's available). Better yet, talk to your parents about going to an estate planning attorney to have one prepared. A good estate planning lawyer doesn't just do wills (which also wouldn't be a bad idea): he or she will explain your choices and give you (and your parents) peace of mind that if something bad happens, you (and they) are prepared.
Imagine going to your dad's financial institution (bank, investment company, credit union, etc.) because your dad's no longer competent to manage his own affairs. Imagine that while he was still competent, he gave you a statutory durable power of attorney (SDPOA) that meets all the requirements of your state's estates code and that authorizes you to, among other things, manage his financial affairs. Imagine how you'd feel if the institution said, "I'm sorry, our policy requires that the POA be on our form, we can't accept that one." Now you're in the position of not being able to do the precise thing your dad wanted and authorized you to be able to do for him, just because his financial institution wants it on their form - you're also unable to get him to sign "their" POA because HE'S NOT COMPETENT ANYMORE. Think you'd be a little frustrated?
The above scenario happens every single day, all over the country. Since I'm a Texas lawyer, I'll confine my observations to Texas; however, your state is probably very similar. Until the 2017 Texas Legislature recently gaveled to a close, a person presented with a SDPOA was not required to accept it. Effective September 1, 2017, Senate Bill 1974 made a fundamental change to Texas' Estates Code by requiring a person presented with a validly executed SDPOA to accept it. There are a few hoops they can still make you jump through, such as requiring a certification (also spelled out in the statute) or a legal opinion that supports the validity of the SDPOA, but they can't make you use their form except in a few situations.
As a firm working in the estate planning and elder law areas, we have seen entirely too many clients have to go through the frustration of thinking their loved one did everything he/she needed to do, only to be roadblocked by a financial institution's "policy". Thank goodness the Legislature got it right this session. If your parents (or you) don't have SDPOAs, Medical POAs, wills, advance directives and HIPAA releases in effect, or they need to be updated, do yourself and your family a favor: do them or update them this month.
As always, this is legal information, not legal advice, and is based on Texas law. If you have a question or concern about this topic, contact an estate planning, probate or elder law attorney in your jurisdiction.
My wife had our first child when I was 32 years old. Holding that sweet little girl in my arms was amazing - the first newborn I'd ever held (heck, probably only the second baby I'd ever held!). However, the overwhelming wonder and love I felt was accompanied by an equally overwhelming sense of responsibility: all of a sudden it's not just the two of us - there's someone else's welfare to consider. The idea of planning for bad stuff quickly became more urgent.
Now, I think everybody ought to have some simple advance directives, both medical and financial, just in case (after all, when you need it, it's too late to get it). However, parents of young children have an extra burden: who's going to raise those punkins if the parents die before the kids reach the age of majority?
It's not a fun thing to contemplate, but it happens, and closing your eyes to the possibility - failing to plan - puts your children at risk of going into the system. You know, the "We'll take them and place them with some very nice foster parents" system, especially if her family and his are fighting over who gets them. Tragically, this happens more often than you'd think, especially when young parents either 1) just don't want to think about it (denial, river, etc.) or 2) can't agree on who will raise them ("Your brother? Really?"), or 3) don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, so they just convince themselves that the family will pull together and do what's best for the kids. HEY! Why aren't YOU doing what's best for your kids?! Parents, make the hard decision, make wills that name guardians for your minor children and put that nagging worry to rest. And then just enjoy the gift that God gave you.