A Word About Sudden Death

In the past two months, my college student son has known – by just 2 degrees of separation – 6 college students who have died. (In other words, he knows someone who knows the deceased.)  Two were students at his own college. Three were the victims of a single car accident. All deaths were sudden.

The car accident comes on the 1-year anniversary of my son’s own highway accident that could have easily killed him and his passengers. Instead, they all walked away with barely a scratch.

I don’t know what to make of all this. Why some are fortunate and others not so. Why some parents are forced to endure the unendurable and others are spared. As one of the spared, it feels awkward or inappropriate, at some level, even to discuss it.

There are many lessons that we can choose to draw from such events. An obvious one: to love our children and to hold them close. To not take them for granted and to savor our relationships and our time with them. To keep their difficulties, and ours, in perspective. They are still alive and breathing. They can overcome. They can have a fresh start. We can have a fresh start with them.

But I also want to linger a little longer over the tough stuff. Unlike the situations above, sometimes these tragedies do not end suddenly. Especially from traumatic car accidents (one of the prime causes of death and trauma in young adults), people can hover between life and death for days and even months. And the lives that hang in the balance can teeter somewhere between relative health and major impairment/disability from physical and/or brain trauma. It’s ugly to think about, I agree.

This is why it’s so important for you to press clients to have their young adult children do just a little planning. They need a financial power of attorney. And on the medical side, they absolutely need a health care power of attorney and a HIPAA release. Because they are over 18, they need these, at the very least, so that their parents can easily get information from doctors and hospitals in an emergency. (For more about why this is essential, read my prior post on this topic.)  And if your client is divorced from the child’s other parent (regardless of whether they are on good terms), the HCPOA takes on additional importance.

I agree with most experts that young adults don’t need a living will (though a discussion never hurts). A talk about organ donation, on the other hand, is important—especially because car accident victims are often candidates to donate. Even if the child’s driver’s license already indicates that he/she is an organ donor, it’s worth having clients talk with their child briefly about this, so that the parents understand their child’s mindset, especially if the parents are not personally in favor. Such a discussion can also be a gift to parents should the unthinkable happen.

So use this as an impetus to reach out to your existing clients and to your community as their children turn 18.

  • Do consider a college student/young adult mini-planning package (and invest in a new relationship with the next generation in the process). If you’d like to see a sample client letter inviting clients to create a HIPAA Release and HCPOA for their college students, feel free to email me.
  • Do consider reaching out to local high school PTAs and Home/School Associations to speak on this topic.
  • Do offer graduating high school seniors a document package at an affordable price. (And planting seeds of relationship with the young adults AND their parents.)
  • Do consider using National Healthcare Decisions Day – April 16—for prepared materials and as an additional marketing hook.

But whatever you do, please DO it.