Becoming an adult in California means we can open our own bank accounts, vote, sign contracts, and our parents no longer have any authority over our lives. No one ever prepares us, however, for how our new adult lives can impact our parents in the event of illness, incapacity, or tragic loss.
One of my clients’ 18 year old daughter went to senior prom and became ill. When the parents arrived at the hospital, the doctor could not disclose “what was wrong” with her because the daughter had never signed a HIPAA release. That’s the privacy release that makes it illegal for a healthcare provider to discuss your healthcare with anyone other than yourself. Without this written release, a doctor faces a $100,000 fine for disclosing information. If the daughter lacks capacity to sign a HIPAA release (as in this case), the only alternative is for the parents to obtain a court order which can take several weeks and thousands of dollars. In the meantime, the parents don’t even know what’s wrong with their daughter, let alone be allowed to make decisions on her behalf.
For an adult child’s parent to be able to make medical decisions on behalf of their child in the event of incapacity, the child must sign an Advance Healthcare Directive naming the parents as agent(s). Without this document, we end up in the probate court asking permission from a judge. This again takes several weeks and thousands of dollars.
Finally, your children are establishing themselves financially when they turn 18. They may take on student loans, monthly rental agreements, car payments and credit card debt. If an accident occurs leaving them unable to pay those bills in a timely fashion, their credit could be ruined and they could be evicted. The adult child could instead sign a Durable Power of Attorney for Finances naming his/her parents as the person to have authority to deal with the child’s financial world. This would include the ability to sign tax returns and bring lawsuits against those who may have created the crisis in the first place. Without this document in place, the parents end up in probate court for the rest of the child’s life asking permission to handle the child’s affairs. The court supervises every expenditure, the investment policy and assumes the parents are embezzling the child’s money until they prove themselves innocent. This requires accountants, lawyers and judges to be paid every year.
Moving from teenager to adulthood is supposed to include evidence that we now consider others (we are no longer the center of the universe). California assumes this maturity occurs at age 18. Most of the time, it’s the parents who encourage their adult children to create these critical documents. Have your children done this for you yet? If not, these forms can be completed for FREE at www.YourLegacyLives.com.