“But I’m just a college student!” If you are, read this.

Attention College Students!  My daughters are both grown, married and starting their families, but when they left home for college, I sniffled and hugged and made sure they had bank accounts and laptops and cell phones.  They knew they could call home anytime (one did, one didn’t), and that if they had a financial issue, their mom and I would help them with it.  That’s what parents do, right?

It was only after having had the daughter of dear friends involved in an auto accident with multiple fatalities, and the daughter of a client killed in a car wreck (neither one was driving and there was no alcohol involved) that I realized we had failed to have them do one thing that would be critical in the event they were seriously injured: we didn’t ask them to make a medical power of attorney (MPOA).

See, once you’re 18 years old, you’re an adult in the eyes of the medical world.  That means your doctor/hospital/pharmacist can’t share your information with your parents or let them be involved in your treatment.

“Good!”, I hear you say.  “None of their business if I’m on the pill or getting prescription meds.”

No (well, not much) argument here; however, it also means that unless you give your parents authorization ahead of time to make treatment decisions for you in the event you’re not able to, or let them have access to your medical records when necessary, they will have to jump through a bunch of hoops before they can help you when you’re unconscious and in the hospital.  And when you need  an MPOA, it’s too late to get one.

Do yourself and your family a favor: get a medical power of attorney before you go (or go back) to school this fall.  You can find the form online (I wouldn’t recommend this option, but it’s available).  Better yet, talk to your parents about going to an estate planning attorney to have one prepared.  A good estate planning lawyer doesn’t just do wills (which also wouldn’t be a bad idea): he or she will explain your choices and give you (and your parents) peace of mind that if something bad happens, you (and they) are prepared.

As always, the above is legal information, not legal advice, and it’s based on Texas law because I’m a Texas lawyer.

When you need it, it’s too late to get it

As an estate planning and probate lawyer, I occasionally have clients who come in, chat with me and my support staff, fill out an estate planning questionnaire and have me prepare draft documents for them – and then never get around to actually executing the documents.  The reasons vary – sometimes a husband and wife can’t agree on who should raise their kids if they die in a common accident, sometimes they just never “get around to it”.  One of the saddest, most frustrating things that can happen at the firm is the call from the widow or children of a client, informing us that the client has died, when I have to tell the caller that there’s no signed will because the client didn’t follow through.  It happens more than you might think.  Although there are still ways to handle the estate of a person who didn’t have a will, it takes longer, is more complicated (and thus more expensive) and creates unnecessary headaches for all concerned.

The same thing happens with medical powers of attorney, statutory durable powers of attorney and directives to physicians (“living wills”): when you’ve had an accident or a stroke and you can’t communicate with your healthcare providers, it’s too late to fill out a medical power of attorney.  When your mom is suffering from dementia and you need to handle her affairs, it’s too late to have her do a statutory durable power of attorney.

Do yourself and your loved ones a favor: sit down with a good estate planning attorney and talk through your options, then follow through.  They’ll thank you for it, even if you’re already cavorting in heaven and can’t hear them by then.