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Protecting adult kids with durable powers of attorney

Teenagers typically do not think about medical directives, guardianships and estate planning. Most California teens and many parents don't realize or recognize that, once a child reaches 18, some health care and financial options are lost.

The moment a teen becomes a legal adult, the doors to the child's health care information close. Doctors do not defer to parents for an adult teen's medical decisions, to avoid violating patient privacy provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

If a teenager, who is at least 18, is incapacitated by an accident or illness and cannot make medical choices, doctors and courts -- not parents -- step in. The legal method to avoid this unfortunate event is to create a durable power of attorney for health care, which allows family members to have access to their teen adult's medical information and make decisions.

A health care durable power of attorney will also clarify guardianship, should incapacitation require a young adult to have a long-term or lifetime caregiver beyond a medical setting. Without a legal document that spells out these health care terms, a judge becomes the child's decision maker.

A second durable power of attorney for property would give parents a way to retrieve a teen adult's financial records and savings. Monies would be accessible to parents for paying the adult child's medical bills and managing the young person's finances.

Estate planning attorneys recommend drafting durable powers of attorney as soon as a child reaches legal adulthood. Some states provide laws that protect families in these awful circumstances, but only durable powers of attorney are effective legal tools that can expand beyond state and international borders.

An 18-year-old may be looking forward to positive events of getting older, like social gathering or a college education, without giving a thought to health care directives or estate issues. Parents can provide a measure of extended protection for their child into adulthood with health care and property durable powers of attorney.

Source:, "Your teenager is now an adult, but what does that really mean?," Jean Murphy, July 15, 2012

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