When a person reaches the age of eighteen in Florida, he or she is legally an adult. The parents may still think of their child as somebody they can protect, but the parents no longer have any rights to do so. Parents may realize this at college orientation. They may realize it when checks for prepaid college are given to the child. If an adult is temporarily or permanently unable to speak for himself or herself, and has not authorized somebody to handle his or her affairs, those who care for the adult may have to file a guardianship.
Every adult should sign health care documents, including a health care surrogate form, a living will and a health care power of attorney. The surrogate form names a person and an alternate to make medical decisions. If the patient needs treatment or surgery, the surrogate form states who will confer with the physicians. The living will provides that life will not be artificially prolonged when there is no hope for recovery, as determined by the patient’s physician and another consulting physician and the surrogate.
We also suggest a health care power of attorney in case a hospital or doctor does not honor the other forms. It should contain HIPAA consent language, so that the designee can confer with insurance companies and others to whom the other documents are not directed.We also suggest financial or property power of attorney even if the young person does not have significant assets yet, because in the event of incapacity, that document is needed to deal with insurance companies and banks and handle lawsuits on the child’s behalf.
Both powers of attorney must be “durable,” which means they remain valid even after capacity has been lost. A power of attorney that is not durable will become invalid as soon as it is needed.
All these documents must be signed while the person is competent. After the accident, it is too late.