In July, my baby boy will be 18 years old. As he shops for dorm room necessities, gets to know his roommate, and worries about getting lost on campus, I’m readying to make sure that he executes a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy.
We tend to think that legal planning documents are necessary only for middle-aged and older adults, yet the reality is that they are equally important for young adults. Once a child reaches the age of 18, even if he’s still in high school, he is an adult in the eyes of the law. His privacy must be respected and parents become outsiders.
For most parents, this reality hits the first time they take their 18-year old to the dentist or the doctor or they try to check a bank account balance for them. The dentist or doctor will ask the adult child whether he wants the parent to be dismissed while they speak. The bank will not provide parents any information about the account.
For some less fortunate parents, this reality hits when something catastrophic happens, rendering their child unable to make medical or other decisions. Absent a Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy, parents must go through court proceedings to be appointed a conservator and/or guardian. Such court proceedings are time-consuming and expensive, requiring a doctor’s letter, a significant notice period to the protected person, and a hearing in probate court before appointment as guardian and/or conservator.
I wish someone had told me about these legal documents four years ago, when my daughter turned 18. Diagnosed with ADHD at 11, bipolar disorder at 16, and borderline personality disorder shortly after her 18th birthday, my daughter’s psychiatrist, psychologist, and social worker agreed that she was unable to make decisions about her health care. All said that she suffered from anosognosia, she lacked awareness about how ill she was. Yet not one of them suggested that my husband and I encourage our daughter to sign a Durable Power of Attorney or a Health Care Proxy.
Shame on them.
If she’d had a Health Care Proxy, more likely than not, she’d be graduating from college this Spring. She’d have remained on her medications and continued her therapy sessions. She wouldn’t have become addicted to methamphetamines. She wouldn’t be homeless and she wouldn’t have a jail record.
Here are some other good reasons to be sure your 18-year old signs a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy:
Without a Health Care Proxy, parents can’t help their children secure the care they need. Moreover, when mental illness strikes, it’s critical that parents be able to talk with their child’s doctors because parents hold important information about their children that doctors need to make the right diagnoses and recommend the best course of treatment.
It’s easy and inexpensive to protect our children from a legal system that demands they be treated as independent adults. But if children aren’t encouraged to plan, decisions about care will be made without parent involvement.
Helpful information about developing Health Care Proxies and Durable Power of Attorney documents is available on the American Bar Association website. Take a look at this document for an example of a Health Care Proxy form used in New York.
Enjoy those senior pictures, the excitement of prom and the magic of graduation. But do yourself – and your child – a favor, and ask him to sign a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy.