A child turning 18 is a massive milestone for any parent. Your kid is now an adult. Perhaps they are headed off to college or joining the workforce. Whatever plans you and your now-adult child may have for their future, there is a legal component to consider. Parents may wonder if they will be able to step in and help their kids if they run into any trouble — should that be legal, medical, or with their employment or relationships.
Many parents may not understand that without the proper legal documents in place, they may not be able to step in when their adult children run into tough times. As far as the law, the medical community, and society at large is concerned, all of the rights and responsibilities of adulthood are heaped upon your children when they turn eighteen, and a parent’s ability to step in is stripped away.
This may sound scary for parents, but there are some legal documents that can help establish some ability for parents to step in and help children if necessary.
Healthcare power of attorney
“Each year, thousands of college-aged children end up in the emergency room or hospitalized,” says Attorney John Wood from Grant Park Legal Advisors. The reasons for hospitalization vary from overconsumption of alcohol to car accidents to sports injuries. For this reason, a healthcare power of attorney (POA) is recommended. “Many of us do not realize that one of your child’s new rights upon entering adulthood is privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Incredible as it may seem, parents could be barred from receiving medical information or making decisions for their child, even if the child is unable to communicate or unconscious,” explains Wood.
In a modern world of blended families or “found” families, it can be challenging for physicians to identify a patient advocate for adult children. Also, family members may not agree on a course of action to take with an adult child if that child is injured and hospitalized. HIPAA directives can also prevent insurance companies from speaking with you regarding your child’s claims and medical care.
A healthcare POA gives parents or a designated party the right to make medical decisions for their adult children. A healthcare POA can be made immediately active, or can become active when your child becomes incapacitated.
“HIPAA authorization is a basic document that, if properly drafted, allows you access to medical information and allows medical professionals to discuss healthcare issues with you,” explains Wood. Typically, a HIPAA authorization will suffice for getting claims paid with the insurance company or getting information from medical personnel.
Durable power of attorney
“A durable power of attorney can help you assist with your child’s academic and financial life,” says Wood. “Without this necessary document in place, it may be difficult or impossible to get information from their school or act on their behalf with student loan lenders, checking accounts, credit cards, or even landlords.”
This document comes in handy when your student is studying abroad or perhaps is having trouble adjusting to college life. Also, not all emergencies are medical. Adult children may find themselves in legal trouble or in a dispute with roommates. A durable power of attorney clears the way for many allowances, such as wiring money out of your adult child’s account, paying bills, or signing legal documents for an adult child who is unable to for any reason. Like the healthcare POA, the durable POA can be issued to take immediate effect or go into effect upon the adult child’s incapacity.
A FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) release is a basic, one-page document that gives parents rights to access educational information from an adult child’s school. This document can come in handy if you need to discuss information with school officials, such as grades, financial and student loan accounts, and healthcare information. “Some schools may have their own forms or online portal in which to sign releases,” says Wood.
Last Will and Testament
“It’s the last document we want to think about needing to draw up,” says Wood, “but it may become necessary.” Even at the tender age of 18, people may have a number of properties or accounts that need to be managed if the unthinkable occurs. In the modern age, “properties” such as social media accounts, gaming accounts, and email accounts can be given a designated manager through a Last Will and Testament.
Having the right documentation in place can be a challenge at times. Each family is different, with a range of backgrounds, histories, and relationships that should be taken into account.
“Sometimes, we see situations where there is a strained relationship between children and parents, and as unfortunate as these situations are, they don’t alleviate the need for someone to be able to speak for this young adult if they are unable to,” Wood explains. “Fortunately, these documents can be drafted to allow another responsible adult to act on their behalf should the need arise.”
Although it may be difficult to think about this type of planning as your child enters adulthood, it remains important. “A little planning today can reduce a lot of stress during difficult times,” Wood advises. “It allows you to think and act in your child’s best interest in a timely manner when minutes and seconds may count.”