It’s that time of year when many high school seniors are starting to prepare for graduation and eventually to head off to college; these seniors are close to turning—or in some cases have already turned—eighteen. It’s almost time to spread their wings, leave the nest, and be on their own…
… Except that most 18 year old college freshmen aren’t actually ready to be on their own. They still rely on their parents for financial support, emotional support, credit card payments, physical transportation… even clean laundry! And just about all of them still rely on their parents’ medical insurance when they need health care. You would think, then, that you as parents would be able to make medical and financial decisions for these fresh 18 year olds when they need help… except you can’t.
Once your child is 18 you as a parent are no longer their legal guardian. No longer will you be able to easily call the shots in the hospital or doctor’s office. You may pay the credit card bill, but you may not always get a representative to talk to you if there is a problem with that credit card. Likewise you may not make decisions regarding their bank account, or have legal dealings on their behalf with their landlord. Not unless your child gives you permission, that is—written permission in the form of a durable power of attorney and/or a healthcare directive.
By naming you as his agent in a durable power of attorney and/or a healthcare directive, your brand new 18 year old is giving you the power to keep doing what you’ve been doing all along… be his loving parent and help with the tough decisions; or—heaven forbid—step in to take charge in case of an emergency.
Durable powers of attorney and health care directives are documents that can be easily executed by our office or your own trusted attorney. Creating one of these documents for the first time is a good opportunity to discuss responsibility with your child, and encourage him or her to begin thinking of these decisions that you have helped them make all these years as their own. We know, however, that this isn’t always an easy subject to discuss with your young adult. If your child is resistant to discussing this with you, perhaps he or she will be willing to discuss it with your family estate planning attorney instead. This is an important subject, not only for you as a parent, but also for your young adult’s safety and well being.