Children need advance directives, too

Steve Gammill

Consider the circumstances of these hypothetical clients:

Bill and Carole Nelson’s  grandson just turned 19. He’s lived at home in a great environment all his young life, but now he’s off to college some 400 miles away. He’s happy as a clam and looking forward to his first real freedom.

Billy Planwell and his wife Patti Sue have an 18-year-old daughter. Janie enjoyed success during her high school years as a singer and actress. She’s developed a real passion and wants to move to New York City and give it a whirl. She envisions herself as the next Lady Gaga and is beside herself with excitement.

Bob and Marlene Smith have a young son who’s taken a job in the oil and natural gas fields in North Dakota. The money sounds great, as does the freedom that comes with the experience. He can always go to college after a few short years of  learning how the real world operates and accumulating some savings.

What do these three families have in common besides their precious children becoming “on-their-own” adults and living somewhere else? Each of these children are suddenly thrust into a world where anything can happen and their parents are no longer readily available — or even have the authority — to help should an emergency arise.

What happens if Bill’s grandson is injured in a bus accident? What if Janie is hospitalized for a serious illness? And what if Bob’s son is on a weekend vacation with a new friend and there’s a car crash?

While all of the parents were proactive in obtaining extended health insurance coverage for their children, none thought about also obtaining a medical power of attorney.

Who’s going to make health care decisions for the children in the event they can’t? Who has the only authority in the world to access a child’s medical records? Think HIPPA. I’ve yet to find a client who’s thought about this situation in advance.

A medical power of attorney — also called an advance directive — is a legal document by which a person appoints someone to make choices for him or her, typically in the event a serious injury or illness makes it impossible for that person to make important health care decisions on their own.

In my law practice, I offer a specialized and customized package called Safetynet. The package consists of a couple of short advance directive documents and a subscription to DocuBank, an online service that offers access to health care directives and emergency medical information.

This gives children and their parents the security of knowing that first responders and other health care providers will know exactly what to do and who to contact. Health and medical records won’t be inaccessible, either.

For these parents, it’s not about an expensive estate plan for their children, it’s about an inexpensive safety net.