Preparing College Students and Young Adults for a Medical Emergency

When teenagers turn 18, the law presumes they are an adult.  At age 18, they are vested with the freedom to determine their residence, live on their own, vote, marry, and enlist in the military. This age often marks the first “adult” milestone: moving out of the family home and into a campus dorm or new apartment.

But 18 is not a magic number and most young adults continue to need guidance in their decisionmaking. This is especially true in a medical emergency. While planning a big milestone such as independent living, consider also making a plan with your adult child on how to handle a medical emergency.

Why Parents Should Help Young Adults Make a Plan

Medical emergencies come in many forms in a young adult’s life: car accidents, sports injuries, viral illnesses (aggravated by dormitory living), experimentation with alcohol and/or drugs, mental or emotional breakdowns, and relationship violence.

When making a plan to cover such emergencies, parents and young adults should consider a few questions. What local supports and services are immediately available to your adult child in the event of an emergency? Who will handle medical decisionmaking for the adult child during an emergency? How will the young adult’s tuition, books, car, and other monthly expenses be managed in the event of a medical emergency? Who should an adult child designate as their emergency contact?

How to Make a Plan with a Young Adult

Most college campuses have resources to deal with challenges before emergencies arise. The first step to preparing for an emergency is to build resilience and a positive sense of independence. First, help your adult child become familiar with their local, or on-campus, resources for medical care, counseling, and safety. Next, implement a set of documents that give you the legal authority to act on your adult child’s behalf when they are unable. These documents should include, at a minimum, a medical power of attorney, durable power of attorney, and HIPAA Authorization.

With a medical power of attorney, a parent can make healthcare decisions for their adult child in a medical emergency, and talk to their adult child’s treating doctors about treatment options. A HIPAA authorization allows a parent to access and obtain their adult child’s medical records; this medical history could be useful to a treating physician in an emergency. With a durable power of attorney, a parent could access their child’s bank accounts and deal with housing, insurance, tuition, and financial aid issues during a crisis.

However, without any of these legal documents, a parent could find themselves shut out of their adult child’s life during a medical emergency.

Young Adults with Special Needs

Finally, young adults with mental disabilities and other special needs may require continued assistance throughout their adult lives. For some of these individuals, guardianship may be necessary, but for those young adults who retain certain abilities and have a trusting relationship with their supporters,  there is an additional legal document they could benefit  from: a “supported decisionmaking agreement”.

A supported decisionmaking agreement is legally recognized in the state of Texas. This is a special agreement between the supporter and young adult that gives a supporter the legal authority to assist the individual with making decisions as it pertains to, or involves, a third party. It differs from a power of attorney because it allows the supporter to make decisions with the adult child instead of independent of them.

As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

If you would like to receive legal counsel and advice on helping a young adult make a plan for a medical emergency here in the Dallas, Plano, McKinney, Frisco, Allen, & Prosper area, contact me , an estate planning attorney and guardianship attorney for a consultation. In addition to in-person consultations, I am also available by teleconference and videoconference.

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