When your child turns eighteen, and/or is heading off to college, you should consider documentation to ensure that you have the right to control your child’s medical and financial decisions. When your child reaches the age of eighteen, practically, nothing changes, but legally, there are many changes. You are likely still responsible for providing living, emotional, and financial support; however, your child is now a legal adult who legally makes financial and medical decisions on her own behalf and you as the parent cannot legally make those decisions for him or her.
Health Care Directive and Living Will
These documents are not only appropriate for our aging population; they are appropriate for any adult, especially a child going off to college in a new location with the freedom that affords. If your child has a health care directive, then you as parents can easily access medical information and make medical decisions for your child if she is unable to make such decisions for herself. Absent the health care directive, a hospital or emergency room may not be legally required or allowed to notify you without your child’s consent, even if you are ultimately responsible for the bill. Likewise, you may not be able to make medical decisions for your child even if she is unable to make those decisions for herself, without your child’s consent. And of course, if your child suddenly becomes incapacitated, then they cannot legally give you that consent.
The health care documents should also include a living will, which is an advanced directive about life-sustaining medical treatment, and a HIPAA release allowing disclosure of sensitive medical information to parents in the event of a medical emergency.
Durable/Financial Power of Attorney
The same is true for your child’s finances. Now the child has the right to sign a contract, such as for a credit card, but you have no right to apply for disability benefits or file a legal complaint on her behalf in the case of an accident. While some states provide for some practical workarounds, it is far more preferable to have these powers delineated in advance and avoid the confusion, hassle, and stress of legal or other guardianship proceedings.
Remembering to take care of these documents in advance will help ensure your family’s well-being and peace of mind.
Joe received his law degree from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill School of Law and his Accounting degree from the University of Rhode Island. He is admitted to practice law in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and he is a CPA. He is an Adjunct Professor and lecturer at the University level and has been a frequent speaker on business planning and legal matters.
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