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Does Your Eighteen-Year-Old Have a Power of Attorney? Don’t Let Them Leave Home Without it

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It’s that time of year . . . high school graduations are around the corner and many 18-year-olds are planning excitedly for the move out of your house, their start in the work force, or their trip to college. What do they usually forget? A Power of Attorney. Why does that matter? You won’t have access to their grades or their billing statements (unless they consent), and getting information regarding their health or making health care decisions if they are unable to do so will be more difficult.

As a parent, I can tell you this happened to me. I got the call at 12:30 AM on a blustery March morning. I groggily answered my phone and heard my then 18-year-old daughter tell me that she was on the way to the Emergency Room. The good news was that she was the one calling me and not the police. We spoke for less than a minute. She was over 200 miles away. Snow was falling, and the roads were icy. Travel was not a safe option.

I waited helplessly for some kind of news. Even if I used my persuasive attorney skills to call the hospital, they would not have been able to give me any information since my daughter did not have a Health Care Power of Attorney or a HIPAA release [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, (Pub. L. 104-191), 45 CFR Section 160 through 164] that allowed me access to her health information. She was awake and competent so I had to wait. Fortunately, everything ended up working out, and she is prepared now. But what if we weren’t so lucky?

Pennsylvania’s Act 169 governs health care decisions for incompetent adults who have no Health Care Power of Attorney or Advance Directive and provides a default list of decision makers. This can help if your child goes to college in Pennsylvania. However, no similar law exists to address the situation that arises when an incompetent adult has no Financial Power of Attorney. The alternative is for the family to seek a guardianship order from the court, an often expensive and lengthy process.

Do you have a child going to college this fall? Plan to add financial and health care powers of attorney to your preparation list.