Adult Kids’ Key Documents

Recently my days as a legal guardian ended when my younger son Devon turned 18. I can’t believe it’s already been 19 months since my elder son Dominic reached adulthood. At that time, I reminded parents of the importance making sure that adult children’s planning documents are in order, especially regarding medical care as your kids go off on their own.

Rarely do unspeakable tragedies occur when our children leave home for college or career. Rarely doesn’t mean never: Dominic’s passion for rugby and Devon’s ambitions to share his musical talents with the world – literally, via international travel – leaves me both proud and worried.

We certainly hope we’ll never need our sons’ health-care powers of attorney, which enable me and my husband to make medical decisions in case our sons can’t, but we’re glad the papers are in place.

Starting. Between today’s stringent health-care privacy regulations (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, aka HIPPA) and the potential for confusion during a crisis, better to have these and other documents fixed long before any need to access medical records or make decisions in an emergency.

Discussing these papers with your adult child during normal times is important. Explain the benefits of executing these documents and legally designating you (the parents) to make financial and medical decisions if your child becomes unable to do so. When ready later to do his or her own planning, your adult child can name decision-makers.

Evaluate your own estate planning. Are your plans documented? Do they need to be updated or reviewed?

If yes, this marks a good time to contact an estate-planning attorney to talk about your own as well as your child’s planning needs. Costs vary, but expect stand-alone child’s document preparation to range about few hundred dollars.

(You can purchase DIY estate-planning software; I recommend working with an estate-planning attorney to make certain the plan fits your needs and conforms to your state’s current laws.)

Advance medical directives. Many states now combine health-care powers of attorney and living wills into your advance medical directive.

This directive appoints a health-care proxy, a fancy name for the individual who decides about your medical treatment if you can’t. The document also contains instructions on what you want to happen if you require artificial life support.

Durable powers of attorney. Similar to an advance medical directive, your power of attorney names someone to make decisions about your money and property if you become unable to do so.

Yet in many states a power of attorney becomes invalid if you become incompetent or incapacitated – exactly when you need someone to make decisions for you. A durable power of attorney remains valid if you become unable to render those crucial decisions.

You can also compose this document without a lawyer, but minutiae involving such points as notarization can render it invalid if you do it wrong.

Devon and Dominic, I hope you go after life’s goals with your usual unassailable energy. Do me a favor: Take good care of yourselves along the way.

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Sheri Iannetta Cupo, CFP, is a principal of SageBroadview Financial Planning with offices in Morristown, N.J., and Farmington, Conn. The SageBroadview blog covers a wide range of financial planning and life topics.

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