By Associate Attorney Danielle Nodar
Do you have a child getting ready to start college or already away at school? While going through the college essentials checklist, make sure to consider what your child may need in the event of an emergency, including legal powers of attorney allowing you to make healthcare, financial, or legal decisions for them in event of an emergency. Once a child turns eighteen, the child is considered an adult in the eyes of the law. This means that parents are no longer given access to their child’s financial, health, and educational records without the consent of their adult child. For this reason, it is essential for parents and young adults to discuss the importance of healthcare powers of attorney and durable powers of attorney before a child heads off to college.
A healthcare power of attorney allows a person to name an agent to make healthcare decisions on their behalf in the event that the person is unable to communicate their wishes to their medical providers. This document contains authorizations allowing the health care agent to access private health information while they are acting as agent. Without these authorizations, medical providers are legally prohibited from releasing such information. No parent should be put in the position of being in a different state from their child and being told that their child has been hospitalized, but the hospital is unauthorized to release any other information about the child’s condition or care. A properly executed healthcare power of attorney can avoid this situation and allow parents to easily step in and access medical information during an emergency. This document also allows your child to include instructions relating to their healthcare, including
wishes related to organ donation or wishes relating to religious or cultural practices. The student can keep these documents on file with their university or medical provider so that it can be easily accessed if needed.
A durable power of attorney allows a person to name an agent to make legal, financial, and business decisions on their behalf if the person becomes incapacitated (unable to handle their affairs). The power of attorney can be used to allow parents to help pay a child’s bills, access the young adult’s personal bank account or education records, or manage the child’s finances or legal decisions in the event of an emergency. Without a durable power of attorney, you would not be able to manage your child’s financial and legal affairs during an emergency without petitioning a court to be appointed the child’s legal guardian.
If a child is going to college outside of North Carolina and does not have these legal documents in place, the laws of that state will control who may be able to make decisions on behalf of the child if they are incapacitated. For example, in North Carolina, if an adult does not have a health care power of attorney and is unmarried, the majority of the child’s parents can make healthcare decisions if the child is unable to. This means that parents will be joint decision-makers and must agree on all actions taken by doctors. In North Carolina and most states, there is no default decisionmaker for legal and financial decisions, so a parent must seek to be appointed the child’s legal guardian by the courts. This process is more costly, stressful, and time-consuming than having documents in place before the need for them arises. If your child resides in North Carolina but is going to school out of state, these documents will allow you to act on behalf of
your child in an emergency regardless of the other’s state’s rules on default decisionmakers as North Carolina documents will be valid in another state.
During this exciting time where a young adult is gaining more independence, they may be reluctant to give their parents decision-making power over health or finances. However, they can be assured that these documents only go into effect after doctors certify that they cannot make their own decisions. During normal circumstances, the young adult still maintains their privacy and autonomy over their healthcare and financial decisions; these documents only assist in the event of an emergency. Finally, now that your child has turned eighteen and is getting ready to enter adulthood, it may be a good time for you to review your estate plan to make sure that it still meets all of your needs and goals. Please call Jesson & Rains if you have questions about these documents or want to learn more about protecting you and your child’s interests through estate planning.
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