Childhood comes with an expiration date of 18

By: Lori T. Williams, Owner/Managing Attorney of Your Legal Resource, PLLC

Fall is an exciting and busy time of year for many of us with children in school.  What about those students who left home to attend college? In the midst of all the college planning and moving details, did you remember to have your 18 year old child execute his or her durable powers of attorney?

Honestly, this important detail slipped my mind until a financial advisor friend of mine reminded me of this recently.  Although I set my 18 year old son up with a bank account at college, I didn’t think about the durable power of attorney.  However, when I visited him again at school, I was prepared with the proper legal documents for him to complete and sign and even some others in his dorm were intrigued about doing the same things for themselves as they served as his witnesses on the documents. I’ve done my own estate planning with an attorney, and revised it appropriately over the years to take into account new life events (marriage, birth, divorce), and trained my 18 year old son to do this for himself.  Many people don’t worry about estate planning when they are young, because they don’t have much money and aren’t worried about it.  However, there are certain details that should be taken care of, regardless of your income or the size of your estate.

Suzanne M. Antonelli is a Senior Wealth Advisor at Antonelli Financial Advisors.  She reminded me that “childhood comes with an expiration date of 18.”  Suzanne shares her personal story of a situation she and her family faced when her daughters went off to college.  It is her hope that other parents and their adult children will become educated about the need for proper planning, so they don’t face health and financial challenges, which could be avoided.

“In the fall of 2006, I packed my twins up and moved them to their respective colleges.  The oldest was attending school in Chicago, and early one morning I noticed that I had missed a call and had a message on my cell phone.  The message was from the Resident Assistant (RA) at her school alerting me that my daughter had been rushed to the hospital and was seriously ill.  Other than that message that was left at 3:00 a.m. and the name of the hospital, no other information was provided.  I immediately called the hospital and was told, in no uncertain terms, that since my daughter was 18 they could not and would not release any information to me, not even if she had been admitted or was a patient in their facility.

I then frantically called the school, which provided even less information.  The RA who left the message did not find it necessary to return my many calls.  I quickly dressed and drove from the Detroit area to the Chicago hospital in record time–4 hours, instead of the usual 5 and 1/2!  By the time I reached Chicago, all the while imagining the worst, my daughter had been treated and released.  I later found out that she had strep throat, which she had ignored in lieu of studying for mid-terms, and had become dehydrated and unresponsive because of a very high fever.  Fortunately, with proper treatment, she was fine.”

The moral of Suzanne’s storywhen your child turns 18, you as a parent no longer have any legal access to their health care information nor authority to make decisions regarding their health care.  

Two relatively simple documents prepared by your attorney, a HIPAA Release and a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, can alleviate this problem.  Most states will honor a document executed under the laws of the home state.

“Had we thought to have my daughter execute these legal documents, I could have faxed the HIPAA release to the hospital and the health care providers would have updated me on my daughter’s condition,” says Antonelli.

A Financial Durable Power of Attorney is also highly recommended in case you are required to make financial or legal decisions on your child’s behalf.    

All parents can learn a valuable lesson from Suzanne about the benefits of proper planning, both for ourselves and our adult children.

If you need help with an estate plan or other legal documents to protect yourself and your family, contact Your Legal Resource for a free consultation. We will connect you with the right legal professional for your needs.

Lori T. Williams

Lori T. Williams is an attorney based in Birmingham, MI, licensed in 1989.  As owner of a legal referral business called Your Legal Resource, PLLC, Lori personally assists individuals and small businesses in need of legal advice or representation in Metro Detroit by connecting them with the right legal specialist to meet their needs.