As summer turns to fall, flocks of recent high school graduates leave the nest and head off to college or university for the first time, leaving parents with a wide range of emotions as they watch their children prepare to spread their wings as independent young adults.
With the flurry of last-minute preparations, such as purchasing textbooks and school supplies, making sure vaccinations are up to date and getting copies of prescriptions so they can fill them on-campus, there is one more task to add to the to-do list: legal documents.
When a person turns 18, they become a legal adult, which means parents — even if they’re still financially supporting their adult children — no longer have the legal right to inquire or direct decisions related to medical, financial or educational records. It’s a good idea for anyone 18 and older to have in place a durable power of attorney and a medical directive, also referred to as a health care surrogate designation or medical power of attorney.
The durable power of attorney is a legal document that gives a designated person (called an agent) the authority, if needed, to handle legal, tax and financial matters on behalf of their child. This can be especially valuable if their child’s school is far away or if they’re studying abroad.
Attorney Tom Gallo of Tom Gallo Law said that when he first started practicing law, more than 40 years ago, a power of attorney was just a couple pages long, but they have become longer and more detailed. He described situations where older documents didn’t specify certain types of assets and the institution, usually a bank, refused to accept the document because it wasn’t specific enough.
His current power of attorney covers 16 pages.
“We’ve become a more complicated world, so consequently we write it as pervasively as possible to prevent a situation where someone attempts to use it and runs into a roadblock,” he said.
The second legal document, a medical directive, gives a parent access to medical information. Recently, a mother had to rush her 28-year-old son to the emergency room. When she was in the waiting room while he was being treated, she was denied information on his status because he was an adult and hadn’t given her authorization. It wasn’t until she was brought to his treatment room that she got information about his care.
“If your adult child has to be hospitalized, then the hospital will be within their rights to refuse to give parents any information about their child or make critical care decisions related to their medical care,” he said. “Whether two hours away or across the country, you’re not going to get that information unless the child has signed that authorization.”
Gallo said he can usually have the documents in place within a day or two.
Parents wanting to strike a balance between respecting a child’s right to privacy and independence and being there to assist and protect them in times of need might have a conversation with their student to educate them on the importance of executing these legal documents.
To learn more about preparing legal documents before children leave the nest, call Gallo at 813-815-4529.