By Kristen R. Matthews, Esquire, CELA –
Parents are often surprised to learn that once their child turns the age of majority, 18 in Pennsylvania, they no longer have a legal right to make medical and financial decisions for their child. Sending your child off to college without both a General Durable Power of Attorney and a Healthcare Power of Attorney can have costly consequences. When meeting with children to discuss their Powers of Attorney, I typically recommend that they name their mom and dad to jointly serve as their Agents.
A General Durable Power of Attorney appoints an Agent who will manage all non-healthcare decisions on your behalf when you are unable, such as signing documents and bill payment. Imagine a situation where you call your child’s college to obtain a copy of his or her transcript. Although the college is happy to accept your tuition payments, they will be unwilling to discuss your child’s academic report or any other matter unless you are named as Agent under your child’s General Durable Power of Attorney.
The Healthcare Power of Attorney appoints an Agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to communicate with your medical providers. Imagine another situation where your child is seriously ill or injured at school, or even while on a family vacation. Medical providers generally will be unwilling and unable under HIPAA regulations to communicate with you regarding your child’s medical condition unless you are named as Agent under your child’s Healthcare Power of Attorney.
In a situation where your child is unable to handle his or her financial and medical affairs long-term due to incapacity, a guardianship proceeding will be necessary if your child had not previously executed valid Powers of Attorney. A guardianship proceeding causes undue delay and expense that can be easily avoided by executing the Powers of Attorney.
As a mother, I cannot stress enough the importance of discussing and implementing Powers of Attorney with your children. Please be sure to add Powers of Attorney to your child’s college packing checklist – it’s the surest way to empower you as your child’s #1 advocate.
Kristen R. Matthews is an experienced elder law attorney, assisting clients with a variety of estate and trust planning and administration matters in addition to advance and crisis Medicaid planning, guardianships, special needs trusts, and Veterans Pension benefits.
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