The appointed day is come: Steffi's most excellent adventure is underway. She just phoned home from Dulles as she prepared to board her flight to Vienna, to be followed by a train ride to Graz and, ultimately, a semester of study at Karl Franzen University. Steffi turned 21 on Thursday (or Wednesday, if you want to be technical, since she was born in Frankfurt, W. Germany).
In preparation for Steffi's adventure, our family pulled out an old VHS tape from 1989, reliving her first birthday again last evening. My, where did the years (and my hair!) go? One minute she is learning to walk in our little two-bedroom apartment, and the next Steffi is flying overseas by herself. Sunrise, sunset.
I know, you probably are thinking that this blog posting is just another sentimental father musing the passage of time and the meaning of life. While I could venture down that bunny trail, I will spare you and cut right to the chase. If you have single, adult children, have you helped them make fundamental legal plans so you can make their personal, health care and financial decisions if they cannot? If yes, then a tip of the hat to you. If no, then read on.
Illnesses and accidents can strike anyone at any time. However, if they leave their victim incapacitated (i.e., unable to function on the "three spheres of person, place and time"), then practical problems result without proper legal planning in advance. That is why Steffi executed the following fundamental legal documents following her 18th birthday: (1) General Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Decisions; (2) Health Care Treatment Directive; (3) Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions; and (4) Anatomical Gift Declarations.
Why is legal planning critical upon attaining age 18 you ask? Well, at that milestone birthday Steffi became an adult in the eyes of the law, responsible for making her own personal, health care and financial decisions. In fact, not only did she become responsible to make such decisions herself, but her parents no longer could make such decisions for her... or even have access to the information necessary to make them! That's right, absent proper legal authority, Gretchen and I would have no more right to make Steffi's medical decisions and file her tax return than you would. And the alternative is not pretty.
Whatever the cause, incapacitated Americans age 18 and older may lose more than the ability to care for themselves. In the absence of proper legal planning, they also will lose the ability to select their own backup decision-makers (i.e., agents/attorneys in fact) for personal, health care and financial matters. By default, a probate court will make that selection after a legal process that employs at least three lawyers, can cost thousands of dollars and exposes private personal and financial information to the public record. Thereafter, the backup decision-maker selected by the probate court will remain under its supervision, further adding to the ongoing expense and red tape.
So, although Steffi is off on her Austrian adventure, Gretchen and I know that we can take care of all of her personal, health care and financial matters. That's right, whether refilling her prescriptions, managing her bank accounts, or even filing her 2009 tax return, we can take care of Steffi wherever she is, whether she is healthy or incapacitated. Truly, an ounce of legal prevention is worth a pound of legal cure.
You just can't put a price tag on such peace of mind.