Imagine your child has just headed off to college. You’re both excited as he embarks on what could be the best years of his life. You’re proud of the person he has become. You raised him well and prepared him for life in the real world. That is, as long as nothing goes wrong.
Now imagine a phone call waking you up from a deep sleep in the middle of the night. Your son has been in a car accident. The hospital won’t tell you what happened or give you any details about his condition, other than he’s at the hospital and being treated. You spring out of bed, throw on some clothes and jump in your car to make the three-hour drive to the hospital. Even in person, desperate and tired, the hospital will not provide you with any information. They tell you they cannot disclose healthcare information unless you have a healthcare power of attorney. You have to wait until your child to wakes from surgery to know anything.
It’s not hard to imagine the stress this would cause you, or the stress it did cause the parents it has actually happened to. Situations like this are not uncommon. They can easily be avoided, however, by having your college student appoint you as their agent under a power of attorney for healthcare.
Power of attorney for all
Power of attorney (POA) is not exclusively for older folks. Adults of all ages can benefit by having a person they know and trust legally empowered to carry out their wishes and act in their best interests when they become unable to do so themselves. While you may always see your child as your baby, the moment they turn 18, you have no legal rights to healthcare information or surrogate decision-making if they are hurt in an accident or become ill and unable to communicate.
Having a POA healthcare agent can mean the difference between life and death. In a medical emergency, timing is everything. At Generation Law, we once had a case where a college student fell down a flight of stairs at a party, hitting each step on the way down with his head. He arrived at the hospital with a traumatic brain injury. Because he did not have POA for healthcare, the parents were forced to go to court for an emergency guardianship to gain control of their child’s healthcare, and direct the hospital on whether to operate. This cost them $5,000 in legal fees, but more importantly, the time spent litigating the matter put their child at greater risk.
Know what to do
POAs can differ from state to state. In Illinois, there are two types of POAs, one for finance and one for healthcare. Chances are, when your kid goes off to college, they don’t have much in the way of property or assets that require attention, but they do have their health.
Before their bags are packed, you and your child should sit down and discuss their healthcare wishes if you need to make an important healthcare decision on their behalf. Becoming the POA for healthcare agent for your child is as simple as visiting an attorney’s office and providing a few signatures. Once that’s done, you and your child should make sure that you, or whomever their POA for healthcare agent is, are easily identified as their emergency contact, so that you can be contacted as quickly as possible following an incident.
When it comes time for your little one to leave the nest, you set them up towels for their dorm room, a little extra spending money and everything else you think they need to get started on their own. But before you say goodbye, make sure they have a POA for healthcare agent – it’s the best gift you can give a kid starting out in the real world, where anything can happen.