By Ben A. Neiburger, Attorney, Generation Law
As your children and grandchildren grow and get ready to go off to college (or return to college), a significant shift occurs in their legal status. They become adults in the eyes of the law, gaining the autonomy to make their own decisions and manage their own affairs. As we go through changes in life, we need to be aware of potential medical challenges and decision-making in case of unforeseen circumstances.
One crucial aspect often overlooked by parents is the execution of powers of attorney once their child turns 18. A power of attorney is a legal document that grants someone else the authority to decide on your behalf. This becomes pertinent in healthcare situations. It’s a common misconception that parents can continue to access their child’s medical information and make decisions for them after they reach the age of 18. However, once they cross that threshold, privacy laws protect their medical information, making it difficult for parents to receive updates or make decisions in cases of accidents or medical emergencies.
In such situations, not having the appropriate legal documents in place can lead to emotional turmoil and financial strain. To bypass these challenges, executing powers of attorney once your children (or your grandchildren) attain age 18 can offer immense peace of mind. This gives you legal authority to make healthcare decisions for someone who can’t.
Getting powers of attorney is not only about avoiding emotional stress but also a practical financial decision. In the absence of powers of attorney, getting the authority to manage your child’s affairs, especially with a traumatic brain injury, might necessitate pursuing a guardianship. This legal process can be time-consuming, emotionally draining, and expensive. By having powers of attorney in place, you can spare your family unnecessary stress and financial burden.
Another noteworthy (and not well known) advantage of having powers of attorney is the continuation of decision-making authority in the event of your child’s subsequent marriage. Powers of attorney signed before a marriage remain valid, unless revoked by the child. You can still make emergency decisions for your child if they don’t remove you as their decision maker after getting married, even if you don’t like their partner.
Young adults find it hard to make time to sign powers of attorney at an attorney’s office. (We know from our own experience that they have trouble scheduling or even keeping appointments.) In these circumstances, we only need a day or two of notice to prepare the powers of attorney for the children. So, we can get powers of attorney done for your children as they come back for the holidays or over those rare three or four day weekends at home. Additionally, if everyone is in Illinois when the documents need to be signed, we can facilitate remote signings, making the process even more convenient.
Moving into adulthood brings major legal changes, especially for medical care and decision-making. By proactively executing powers of attorney after your child’s 18th birthday, you can ensure that you keep the ability to access medical information and make critical healthcare decisions if the need arises. This precautionary measure prevents emotional distress and costly legal procedures. By securing the legal means to care for your child’s well-being, you offer both them and yourself the invaluable gift of preparedness and peace of mind.