Being the parent of an 18-year-old is exciting. There’s the planning, helping with school and job applications, and the excitement about college, going to work, or whatever the next stage of life brings.
So much changes when kids turn eighteen. You’ve loved them, nurtured them, provided for them, and you’ve been privy to almost everything going on in their lives. You know they’re leaving for college soon, looking for employment, or will be pursuing other interests, but what you may not realize is that without their permission, at the stroke of midnight on their eighteenth birthday, you no longer can make legal decisions for them or obtain information about their personal matters. And this can be quite a challenge.
There is nothing worse than getting a phone call from your son’s college roommate at midnight informing you that your son was in an accident. “He’s at the hospital,” the roommate says, “and that’s all I know.” The very nice people at the hospital will tell you nothing, because even though you are the parent, your child is eighteen and you don’t have a legal right to the information. You are beside yourself with worry and can find out nothing. Once you’ve gone through an eye-opening event like this, you will make sure that appropriate legal documents are put in place immediately.
But trust me – it is better to get them in place before anything happens.
Kids still need guidance and help from their parents, but parents are limited in what they can do without the proper documents. Under current laws, not only are you denied access to medical information for this child you have loved and cared for all these years, but access to academic information is similarly unavailable. Regardless of whether parents are paying a child’s tuition, they are not entitled to be notified of their child’s grades or whether or not their child is still enrolled in school, unless they have the student’s written permission to obtain this information. Or, a child might slip up and fail to fill out some form needed for the application for renewal of their scholarship or financial aid. The parent will not know it if written permission is not in place, and the opportunity for aid may be lost.
Focus on Four
The most important legal documents your child needs when turning eighteen are:
1. Medical Power of Attorney
Also known as the advance medical directive, this is a document that allows you to obtain medical information when needed and lets you make medical decisions for your child (but only if your child is unable to make medical decisions himself or herself). It should contain a HIPPA release and can include a living will.
2. Durable Power of Attorney
This will allow you to obtain financial information and handle matters for your child as needed. It does not take away the child’s powers to handle things on her own behalf, but rather, names you as the child’s agent to help with things as necessary. While a child is a young adult in so many instances, as a practical matter, your child’s financial affairs are also your financial affairs, and you need access to accounts and information.
3. College Forms
Often the colleges themselves will have forms that can be signed to give you access to educational records and other information about your child. Don’t overlook these forms as they make obtaining information so much easier.
4. Basic Will
For some children, if they have money in their own name, it is a good idea to also have a basic will in place to specify what is to happen to their assets at their death and who is to serve as executor to manage their estates.
When parents and kids are swamped, it is very easy to overlook the importance of securing these forms. Having these four legal documents in place can prevent a lot of grief and anxiety and can serve a family well beyond the years of young adulthood. Contact an attorney for a consultation if you want these basic but important documents customized to your particular family and want to understand what to include and how to use them. With regard to health care powers of attorney, a Virginia advance directive for health care can be found at the Virginia State Bar website (vsb.org).