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Is Your High School Graduate Heading to College? Here’s Some Helpful Legal Advice

Advanced Medical Directives and Powers of Attorney cover the bases and provide peace of mind

Game time in Annapolis at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is always a thrill. (Photo: Susan Fleischman)

By Paul J. Dean, Esquire

Alexandria, VA – As parents get ready to send their young adult children off or back to college, into the workforce, or on travel adventures, the question comes up: In the unlikely case of emergency, what documents should we have to ensure our kids are cared for and protected?

Simply put, upon reaching the age of 18, every young adult should execute an Advanced Medical Directive and a Durable Power of Attorney. These documents allow teens to designate their parents or some other legal adult to act on their behalf, in case they become incapacitated for some reason.

For parents, the thought of their children suffering from a medical emergency that leaves them unable to make their own decisions regarding medical care is unimaginable. However, most parents do not realize that once their children turn 18, parents lose the legal right to direct medical care, access health records, and manage their financial affairs. This problem is easily fixed through the proper execution of an Advanced Medical Directive and Durable Power of Attorney.

JMU’s marching band brings the crowd to its feet. (Photo: Julie Denton)

What is an Advanced Medical Directive (AMD)?

An Advanced Medical Directive serves two basic functions: It allows the maker (the 18-year-old) to define instructions for care if they become incapacitated or are facing an end-of-life scenario, and it designates a trusted adult to act as the medical power of attorney. It typically includes information regarding being an organ donor, and determining if their life should be extended by artificial means (the Do Not Resuscitate election). It also gives the agent (parent) the ability to direct medical care, discuss treatment options with medical professionals, and access confidential medical records. Every AMD should include a HIPAA Waiver, which allows access to medical records protected under the federal American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. To be considered valid in the Commonwealth of Virginia, AMDs need to be signed in the presence of two witnesses, but do not need to be notarized.

What is a Durable Power of Attorney?

A generable Durable Power of Attorney (POA) is a document that designates a trusted individual to manage your financial affairs in the event you become incapacitated. This allows your agent easy (and legal) access to bank accounts, financial records, credit card records, property records, and all other accounts. The agent is responsible for paying bills, rents, and handling any other necessary financial transactions. Valid POAs in Virginia must be notarized.

Do I need an attorney to prepare an AMD and POA?

No, you don’t need to hire an attorney to prepare your AMD and POA. There are plenty of on-line templates as well as suggested language in the Virginia Code. Many colleges will send standardized forms for these documents as part of the enrollment paperwork. However, it is important to ensure the forms are up-to-date, compliant with state law, and contain all of the required elements. More important, these documents must be properly executed. Local Estate Planning attorneys have current templates and can prepare the documents, explain the provisions, and supervise the proper execution of the documents for a small fee.

College students are legally considered adults with protected privacy, which could pose a problem in the case of accident or injury. (Photo: JumpStory)

Where are the documents kept?

In case of emergency, once these documents are prepared, they should be easy to find! Teens should keep the originals on hand at their residence, wherever they are, and let their parents know where to find them. Parents should have a copy as well. People have been known to keep extra copies in the glove box of their vehicles. Most colleges also keep copies of the forms as part of students’ medical files at the campus health services center. Be sure to check with your college to see if this is an option.

Obviously, you hope your young adult will never need an AMD and POA, but for peace of mind and security, put this on your checklist before they fly the coop.

Paul J. Dean, Esq., is the founder and sole proprietor of The Dean Law Firm, PLLC, He is a graduate of Harvard University and the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. Paul resides in Alexandria with his family, including two Class of 2020 high school graduates.

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