With the arrival of summer, young people across the country are about to reach a key milestone: high school graduation. If you have a child claiming their diploma, now is the time to prepare them for life after leaving the nest. It might seem like they are too young to need any planning documents, but encouraging them to think through how their affairs would be managed in certain situations could be an important educational opportunity for them, setting the table for how they handle their legal affairs in the future.
Graduating high school is a significant accomplishment. However, it comes with serious responsibilities that your child probably isn’t thinking much about right now. Once your child turns 18, they become a legal adult, and specific areas of their lives that were once under your control will be solely their responsibility.
While your child will now be a legal adult, you may still have essential parental duties. Yet, if you don’t support your child to step into adulthood with legal documents to help both of you, it can be challenging and costly for you to help them in the event of an unforeseen emergency.
For instance, should your child get into a severe car accident and require hospitalization, you would no longer have the automatic authority to make decisions about his or her medical treatment or handle their financial matters. Another situation where you might need authority to act on behalf of your child is if they study abroad and get stuck somewhere. In fact, without legal documentation, you wouldn’t even be able to access his or her medical records or bank accounts without a court order.
To address this vulnerability and ensure your family never gets stuck in an unnecessary court process, before your kids move out or head off to college, have a conversation about estate planning and have them sign the following two documents.
01 | GEORGIA ADVANCE DIRECTIVE FOR HEALTH CARE
If you are a Georgia resident, the first document your child needs is a Georgia Advance Directive for Health Care, which can be made through a statutorily recognized form that combines medical power of attorney provisions and provisions traditionally included in a living will. The Advance Directive allows your child to grant you (or someone else) the immediate legal authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves. It does not take away their ability to make decisions for themselves if they are able.
For example, the Advance Directive would allow you to decide about your child’s medical treatment if he or she is knocked unconscious in a car accident or falls into a coma due to a debilitating illness.
Without an Advance Directive or medical power of attorney in place, if your child suffers a severe accident or illness that requires hospitalization and you need access to their medical records to make decisions about their treatment, you’d have to petition the court to become their legal guardian. While a parent is typically the court’s first choice for a guardian, the guardianship process can be slow and expensive.
And due to HIPAA laws, once your child becomes 18, no one—not even parents—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission. But an adequately drafted Advance Directive will include a HIPAA authorization, so you can immediately access their medical records to make informed decisions about their treatment.
An Advance Directive also allows your child to advise if and when they want life support removed should they ever require it, a provision traditionally included in living wills. Of course, it’s no fun to think about a situation like that, but speaking with your child about what would happen in emergency situations removes the topic from taboo subject matters and helps them to think maturely and proactively about keeping their affairs in order.
02 | FINANCIAL POWER OF ATTORNEY
Should your child become incapacitated or be out of pocket for a significant period, you may also need the ability to access and manage their finances, and this requires your child to grant you a financial power of attorney.
A financial power of attorney gives you the authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying their tuition, applying for student loans, paying their rent, negotiating (or re-negotiating) a lease, managing their bank accounts, and collecting government benefits if necessary. Without this document, you’ll have to petition the court for such authority. Of course, you want your child to learn to handle matters themselves, and this document does not take their power to manage their own affairs away from them. However, if a situation arises where you need authority to act on their behalf, a power of attorney can give it to you.
START ADULTHOOD THE RIGHT WAY
Before your kids head out into the world, make sure they’ve got the proper planning in place. By doing so, you are modeling good financial stewardship and setting them up right from the start. Financial and legal illiteracy is an epidemic that you can quickly address, starting with yourself and your own family.
At Bryant & O’Connor Law Firm, we can not only help you create these vital documents, but we can also facilitate a family meeting to discuss the importance of planning. We will begin what we hope will be a life-long relationship with your children as they take this crucial first step into adulthood. Contact us today to ensure that if your child ever does need your help, you’ll have the legal authority to provide it.
This article is a service of Daniel J. O’Connor, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. From now until August 5, 2022, for recent high school graduates, we are offering a parent-child-attorney meeting, along with a Georgia Statutory Power of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directive for a flat fee of $250.00. For parents who have had a Family Wealth Planning Session with our firm and have engaged us to prepare a Trust Plan for them, the parent-child-attorney meeting is complimentary, along with preparation of these two important documents. Hopefully you never need to actually use these documents, and thus the most valuable part of this would likely be the educational experience for young adult child learning to properly plan for their life.