If you have a child (or grandchild) over age 18 and heading to college, read on...
Health Insurance Coverage Alone
Your child may be covered by your (or a parent's) medical or health insurance plan, but that young adult also needs some basic estate planning documents.
You may be thinking, "Wait a minute! Estate planning is only for older people with substantial assets. Why would a kid need an estate plan?"
The answer is this - - in the event of disability due to illness or accident. Most people only think of estate planning in case of death. However, a young person has a much greater chance of being ill or disabled , and unable to handle his or her own affairs, than passing away.
Your insurance may cover the child's medical expenses, but once a child becomes 18 and is considered an adult under the law, you as the parent may no longer automically have access to your child's financial, educational and medical information in an emergency and may not immediately make decisions for your child. Unless your child sets up the proper legal documents, you may be forced into an unnecessary Court Conservatorship, and be burdened with delays when critical decisions need to be made, not to mention excessive paperwork, attorney fees and Court costs!
The federal law known as "HIPAA" (and a corresponding California law known as "CMIA") limits access to an adult's private health information, even by a parent or other close relative. A proper HIPAA Authorization document waives this confidentiality and can allow a parent (or other appointed person) access to the young adult's hospital admission information and medical records, as well as to speak with medical professionals regarding the person's condition and medical treatment recommendations.
Advance Health Care Directive
This legal document allows the parent (or other appointed person) to then make medical decisions if the child can't - - everything from immediate lifesaving treatment, to operations, transfusions, rehab treatment, all the way to the (hopefully never to come) decision about long-term life sustaining treatment like tube-feeding and hydration. Children (and often their parents) seldom think they'll ever become so disabled by illness or accident, but they could.
Health Documents Emergency Card
This is not itself a legal document, but it's just as important as the HIPAA Authorization and Advance Health Care Directive. Here's why.
If a young adult is rushed to a hospital in an emergency, what's the chance he or she will have those two legal documents with them? According to surveys, there's less than a 1% chance. So what happens? Maybe little or nothing! Hospitals and doctors are fearful of acting without proper legal authority because they could get sued!
This Health Document Emergency Card is connected to a 24 hour service, so that when the child has the card in his or her wallet, the health provider can immediately access electronically the child's legal documents and perform needed emergency medical treatment.
Our Emergency Card is specially tailored, for our clients, to include the names and phone numbers of the appointed health decision makers. Often, the parent (or other person) doesn't even know the child has been rushed to the hospital and the hospital doesn't know who to contact (or how to reach them). Our Emergency Card also has space for important allergy or prescription information that could significantly affect the choice of life-saving treatment.
There's One More Document Necessary:
A Durable Power of Attorney
We've only addressed the child's medical related matters, but what about financial or educational matters which may need to be attended to if the child becomes disabled due to illness or accident?
A Durable Power of Attorney will empower the child's parent (or other appointed person) to handle immediately, without going to Court, such matters as: accessing bank accounts and credit cards; paying bills; accessing online accounts (including online banking); entering contracts with third parties (including with an attorney, if legal representation is necessary); and obtaining educational records. (By the way, merely holding joint accounts or assets with parents, or parents holding a child's assets in their own names, are not wise alternatives; these may create more taxes and creditor liabilities for the parents, as well as affect financial aid or government benefits for the child.)
Getting these needed items are not difficult or expensive. So please don't just use fill-in-the-blank forms, like you can download off the internet. Remember, we are specialists in this type of planning and our documents often cover situations (which we've encountered over the past 38 years) that mere forms fail to adequately protect against.
Have your child contact and come and see us (since they're now an adult, they'll have to do it on their own, but you can help with the fee, which by the way is modest for these and will be quoted when they come in).