Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Paperwork That Might Save Your Life

What's the worst that could happen as your child goes off to college? Some bad grades? Homesick? Hard to make friends? Nothing to eat besides breakfast bars?

Not even close.

What if a texting car driver isn't paying attention and runs down your daughter walking though a crosswalk?

What if, in this new communal lifestyle, your son picks up some super-serious flu bug or a virulent and fast-acting form of meningitis?

Pretty awful.

But consider: What happens if your son or daughter is incapacitated by those issues or any of dozens of possible medical emergencies that happen on campus every year. 

The days of making medical decisions for your 12 year old at the pediatrician's office are over. Your 18-year-old child is considered an adult in almost every state. Do not send your pride-and-joy off to college without having prepared a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (also called a Healthcare Proxy in some jurisdictions). If your daughter instead says, "Aw, mom, don't worry. I will be fine," it is your job to convince your child this is no joke, that she is now considered an adult who can vote, marry and serve in the military--and, as an adult, she has to do the intelligent thing and cover the rare contingency that this paperwork might save her life. A phone call home is not a substitute when time is critical.

In addition to a Healthcare POA, there is a bit more paperwork to be done. A Living Will sets down your child's wishes about life support and other medical interventions and a HIPAA Release waives strict rights of privacy, allowing the designated party to make critical decisions. Without this instrument, the parents of an incapacitated child cannot even find out what treatments and medications are being given.

Healthcare directives for your child can be prepared by the attorney who created your estate, Power of Attorney for Healthcare and Power of Attorney for Property. Do not put this off; a minimal investment and a few minutes of time now is vastly better than a crisis in which you can only observe, not act in your child's best interests.

-Mike Ryan