Off To College: Why Parents Need Emergency Powers

emergency powers
William “Bill” C. Davell, Esq.

The Good News provides a monthly column with important content having to do with topics from the legal community. This month, William “Bill” C. Davell and Christine Yates, of Tripp Scott PA, address emergency powers.

Bill Davell: My child is finally headed off to college. Why should I consider arranging for emergency legal powers?


Christine Yates: Picture the nightmare scenario where your 18+-year-old Big Woman or Man on Campus embarks with friends on a weekend trip and an accident occurs. You rush to the medical facility expecting a full rundown on his or her condition, but doctors cannot tell you a thing because your child is no longer a minor. 

Or bills come due, and you can’t pay them without digging into your own pockets or even talk to insurance companies because the bank and insurers won’t grant access to your progeny’s accounts. At this point, the only remedy is a costly, inefficient guardianship proceeding.

Not to mention simply assisting with managing your “independent” child’s ongoing needs like tuition and setting up rental and credit card payments: even a college’s “surrogacy” or “proxy” to access medical or financial accounts may be unintentionally misleading because they may be limited to strictly school-related matters. 


BD: So how can parents head off such calamities?


CY: The “Good News” is that there are preventative measures to avoid both the financial and medical scenarios. Florida authorizes your now-adult child to execute a Durable Power of Attorney granting you authority to the parent to act in his or her place should an emergency arise, or even in more mundane circumstances as he or she directs.

And the Sunshine State offers a “Health Care Surrogate” which allows an Agent – preferably you – to receive health information and make health care decisions for a principal – your child. 


BD: But what if a legal adult child chafes at such arrangements because he or she wants to be “independent?”


CY: That, too is a familiar scenario – and not just for young people, but also for older people who especially resent yielding control to children suddenly acting like parents. For kids, a natural knee-jerk reaction is “I do not want my parents to have access to my account” or “I do not want them to know my visits to the doctor.” You cannot force your adult children or parents to sign these documents. 

But you can ease the decision by allowing your child to place limitations on the authority granted you, such as only being able to view financial accounts without being able to withdraw money or access medical records without decision-making authority. Down the road, the child can revoke any authority granted as long as they are “competent.” Your child may also be relieved to know that there are measures to protect against breaches of your “fiduciary duty” in mismanaging funds or medical information. And want to consider that the alternative to having decisions made by trusted relatives, the lack of this preparation would force them into the hands of unknown third parties.

 The real key: a frank but reassuring conversation both explaining the value of these arrangements and underscoring that they are really not for your benefit, but his or hers. It’s an educational opportunity to help budding adults analyze the real-life tradeoffs involved in growing up – giving up some privacy to gain convenience plus protection and peace of mind in case of an emergency.


BD: How do I conduct such a conversation?


CY: More “Good News:” the attorneys in Tripp Scott’s various planning specialties hold these conversations, with children as well as aging parents, literally every day. We’re happy not only to put together the required documents with agreed-upon provisions and restrictions, but to help address just about any conceivable question or scenario. Feel free to contact us at [email protected] or 954-525-7500.


Christine P. Yates, a director with Tripp Scott, leads the firm’s Private Wealth Service group with over 24 years of experience guiding her clients through the full spectrum of estate transfer issues.  From small administrations to estates in excess of $1 billion, clients receive counsel on estate, gift and generation-skipping planning, trust and estate administration and fiduciary litigation while maintaining the utmost discretion and confidentiality.

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