High school graduations make me think about kids becoming adults, leaving the nest, or making their way in the world. You may not have thought about why a financial power of attorney (POA) and a health care power of attorney (HCPOA) are important for young adults upon turning 18.
As our teenagers happily remind us, turning 18 makes one legally an adult. If you are a parent of a 17 year old, you’ve been used to making decisions for them, giving permission for activities, maybe opening and managing a savings account for them, and receiving medical information. All of a sudden, once your child turns 18, you as a parent no longer have the automatic authority to do those things, even if your child still resides at home. A doctor may refuse to provide you medical information about your adult child because doing so would violate HIPAA. Banks may refuse to allow you to move money from your child’s savings account to his checking account when he is in college, even if you used to do that for him. How can we avoid these problems?
Young adults, like any other adults, should consider having a financial power of attorney (POA) and a health care power of attorney (HCPOA). The financial power of attorney appoints someone else to handle their financial matters. This includes getting their bills paid, moving money from one account to another, and signing contracts. The POA can be set to appoint someone to act only if the young adult is physically or mentally incapacitated (e.g., due to accident or illness) or it can be set to allow someone who is trusted to do these things anytime for convenience (e.g., when away at college, traveling before starting a job, etc.). A POA should be made effective anytime only if the person being appointed is someone the young adult fully and completely trusts, because it means that person can take actions about finances, credit, and bank account even when the young adult is perfectly capable of handling these things on their own.
A health care power of attorney (HCPOA) appoints someone to make medical decisions only if the person making the document cannot make those decisions. If a young adult appoints a HCPOA, it means that if the young adult has an injury or illness making this person unable to make medical care decisions, the parent would be authorized to receive information from the doctor or hospital, and to make decisions based on that information.
Young adults most commonly appoint one or both parents (or, if raised by someone else, that person) to serve on their financial and health care powers of attorney. Over time, the young person may develop other relationships making it logical to change the person appointed, like upon marriage, having a long-term relationship. The documents can always be updated later.
Many attorneys will prepare financial and health care powers of attorney for young people who have recently turned 18 at a courtesy (inexpensive) fee that doesn’t cover the lawyer’s time. Lawyers often do this just to help out, because they know it lets the family rest easier. It is always acceptable to ask for fee information from a lawyer’s office either before scheduling an appointment or before the lawyer begins work for which you could be charged.
Kim K. Steffan is an attorney with Steffan & Associates, P.C. in Hillsborough, NC. She can be reached at 919-732-7300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was last updated in January 2020.