Good parents can answer almost any question about their children, even during the teen years. And for 17 years and 364 days, parents often are asked to answer almost every question about their child’s health, education, insurance, financial support, and general wellbeing. Until the plug suddenly gets pulled on day 365.
To most parents’ surprise, they quickly learn that on that milestone 18th birthday, moms and dads in the U.S. lose the legal right to ask for information, make decisions or recommendations, or provide guidance about their son or daughter to schools and colleges, doctors and hospitals, banks and insurance companies, and other areas of responsibility parents have assumed for nearly two decades on behalf of their children (who are still, let’s face it, more like children than not the day after their 18th birthday and who, more than likely, will still be depending on mom and dad for at least a few more years).
While all good parents welcome their child’s move toward adulthood and independence, many are soon shocked or dismayed at being instantly “cut off” from information about their child’s medical records, bank accounts, college academic advisors, etc. Yet these providers and institutions will continue to look to parents to pay the bills for education and medical care until the “child” is graduated and/or 26 years old. But even though they are still paying the bills, parents are no longer legally allowed to ask questions or make decisions about care, financial transactions, or education.
Enter PLAN 18 – a set of legal documents packaged into a streamlined and affordable process to help parents and their newly-minted young adults face a changing world of responsibilities together, while also helping to minimize the legal pitfalls for both after “cut-off” day. PLAN 18 was developed by attorney Julia Nickerson, founder of the Nickerson Law Group, in Austin, TX. Ms. Nickerson describes PLAN 18, for starters, as a legal plan for young adults that enables parents to gain access to their adult child’s medical information in the event of an emergency.
HOW ELSE DOES PLAN 18 HELP PARENTS TO HELP THEIR ADULT CHILDREN?
It allows the parents to be able to communicate with insurance providers and medical professionals about the wellbeing of their child. Just like when we prepare an estate plan for a family, the husband and wife get the same documents we prepare in a PLAN 18. For example, I am listed on my husband’s HIPAA release as someone who is able to know about his medical condition. I am also listed as his Medical Power of Attorney, allowing me to make decisions for him IF he is unable to do so.
While giving birth to my first child, I almost died. This life-changing event made me realize as a mother and attorney how important it is for every family to have a legal plan. I have also been deeply affected witnessing the struggles my brother and sister-in-law go through raising their autistic son. I have become passionate about helping families with special needs children plan ahead legally.
I am a second generation estate planning attorney. My father, Richard Hart, who also collaborates with the firm, has represented some of the wealthiest families in the country in planning their estates. Before starting my own law firm, I practiced law for ten years at a large law firm where I learned creative ways to legally save wealthy clients large amounts of money in taxes. I represented clients in multi-million dollar litigation before the United States District Court, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. I also taught law as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Indiana School of Law.
WHY DID YOU DEVELOP THE PLAN 18 PROCESS?
A client’s daughter was in a car accident. She was hospitalized and her parents were called and told, “You need to get here.” By the time the parents arrived, their daughter was not conscious. The doctors refused to inform the parents about anything until their daughter woke up, thanks to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act), a federal law prohibiting medical care providers from releasing confidential medical information without the consent of the (legally adult) patient. We all sign a HIPAA release form when we visit our doctor to ensure our doctor is able to communicate with our insurance provider and (only) specifically named individuals.
No, it doesn’t take any rights away. Rather, a HIPAA release allows a young adult to list those individuals they want to be allowed to know what is going on with them medically (e.g., mother and father). As well, a Medical Power of Attorney lists the individual a young adult wants to make medical decisions for him or her if unable to make decisions for themselves. Here’s the thing: Without legal documents in place, the parents’ ability to intervene on their child’s behalf and provide meaningful assistance or relief can be significantly hindered, and young adults – when they are sick, injured, broke, failing at school or in trouble – may have to endure a difficulty or worse, a series of long-lasting difficulties, because mom or dad can’t step in and act on their behalf. Overall, this is an individual and family decision, but once most parents and young adults understand the downside of not putting these legal documents in place, they don’t hesitate to do so. And that’s whey we made this an easily accessible and affordable process – to make it easy to do.
If the adult child is mentally incapacitated, he or she won’t be able to execute the documents. Instead, the parents can seek a legal guardianship to be able to make medical decisions for their mentally incapacitated adult child. With the exception of those conditions, it is up to each young adult and his or her family to decide if PLAN 18 is right for them.
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