If you have children or grandchildren in college or heading to college in the fall, there’s one more thing they need before they leave for school – estate planning documents.
As this recent article states, at their age, a Will is far less important than the disability documents: a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, and Living Will. College-aged kids generally don’t have much valuable “stuff”, and under Florida law, the parents are entitled to their kids’ “stuff” even without a Will. But things aren’t as easy when it comes to taking care of your legal-aged child’s financial, legal, and health care issues.
What happens if your 18- or 19-year old child becomes ill or is injured in an accident and can no longer make decisions or communicate with medical professionals? He’s not your baby anymore, and the doctors and hospitals can refuse to allow you to make medical decisions for him or see his medical records – especially if you’re divorced from the other parent. No hospital wants to get in the middle of a potential legal battle. So, if your child didn’t previously execute a Health Care Proxy and Living Will, your only option is guardianship court. Guardianship is a legal process, so it’s costly and stressful – at a time where a parent is already under stress.
A Health Care Proxy (in Florida, we call it a Designation of Health Care Surrogate) allows your child to appoint the people he wants making health care decisions for him when he can’t. And a Living Will is his declaration that he wishes to die a natural death when there’s no reasonable medical probability of recovery – and not be hooked up to machines. Remember the Terri Schiavo case? She was only 26 when she suffered a heart attack in her St. Petersburg, Florida apartment that essentially ended her life. But her body was kept alive by machines for 15 years because her husband and her parents didn’t know what her wishes were.
What if the accident that injured your child was caused by a drunk driver? Without a valid Durable Power of Attorney, a parent will once again be forced to go to guardianship court to be declared the child’s legal guardian, and obtain government permission to sue the drunk driver on behalf of the child. Without a Power of Attorney, the parent also couldn’t access the child’s bank accounts, file his tax returns, talk to the school about his financial aid or grades, talk to the lender on his car loan, and the list goes on.
Your child is naturally focused on the excitement of classes, new friends, and parties – not illness, disability, or death. But, as parents, we know that unforeseen illnesses and accidents can happen to anyone. Make sure your child sees an estate planning attorney and executes these important legal documents so guardianship proceedings can be avoided and loved ones can easily step in when there’s an emergency.