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As parents, we spend so much time ensuring our children have all the supplies they need when going off to college: the extra-long sheets, the microwave, the toaster oven. We should also make sure they have a power of attorney and a healthcare proxy.
- A power of attorney is a document that designates an individual who can handle financial matters on another person’s behalf.
- A healthcare proxy is a document that prioritizes who can handle healthcare and medical matters on another person’s behalf.
Once children turn 18, they are no longer minors, and parents are no longer legally responsible for them. A parent cannot make most financial and medical decisions for their adult child without a power of attorney and a healthcare proxy or guardianship. Because we can’t know what may happen when our children go away to school, it is important to have these documents in place.
In the same way that nursing homes ask if a patient or resident has a healthcare proxy, colleges should encourage students to bring these documents with them and put them on file at the school in case something happens. That’s forward thinking, but I don’t know that any schools actually ask for this; they didn’t when I was in school.
Some laws give parents a limited ability to make medical decisions for their adult children in an emergency, but those laws give both parents equal authority—even if the parents are divorced. One parent may do more for the child than the other, or the child may get along better with one parent than the other. The child might want mom to handle things as opposed to dad, but the law says both mom and dad can do it.
If there is a medical emergency during which the child cannot speak for himself, and the child has a healthcare proxy, he has identified a specific priority of people to make healthcare decisions on his behalf. If he wants mom to make the decisions, mom will be listed first, and the doctors will call mom first.
If a student does not have a power of attorney, parents may not be informed if, for example, a legal problem arises. There are many instances of kids having issues at parties. Parents may not have access to their child’s bank accounts either. Without a power of attorney, the parents and child should at least share a joint bank account in case of an emergency.
Our power of attorney documents also address digital world issues. Young adults today are driven by social media, and many social media sites will not give parents information. For example, Facebook will not share your child’s account information. But what if your child was injured or is missing after meeting up with a stranger they met online? If you have a comprehensive power of attorney, you may be able to get important information from these sites to figure out who harmed your child or where your child might be.
Make sure that your child is protected by a healthcare proxy and power of attorney before they go away to college. Contact the Russo Law Group P.C. to discuss your situation.
Deanna M. Eble
Russo Law Group, P.C.
100 Quentin Roosevelt Blvd., Suite 102
Garden City, NY 11530