Congratulations, parent–your child has made it to official adulthood! That means you’ve been there to guide them and help them along the way. Truly, you worked hard to get them to this point, and it’s a celebration of your own accomplishment as much as their freedom.
Everyone knows, however, that a child doesn’t automatically become independent at age 18. They still depend on you in many ways: emotionally, financially, and within your family. They might still live at home or go to college nearby. Even if they truly fly the nest, you’ll always want to care for them in many ways.
Unfortunately, there are no gray areas in the law. At 18 years old, your child is legally separate from you. Because you love your child, you want to make sure they have the right protection. When they were very small, you baby-proofed the house. When they got a little older, you had them wear a bicycle helmet. You ask them to take precautions. An estate plan is a precaution for an older child.
Emergency Healthcare Documents
The most important documents you can create for your child is a durable power of attorney for financial and health care decisions. Some documents combine these authorities while others separate the financial and health care powers into separate documents.
Imagine a scenario where your young-adult child is involved in a car accident and is unconscious. They are taken to a nearby hospital, and medical professionals at the hospital require a decision about your child’s care. A durable power of attorney is important because it covers situations where the agent (in this case, your child) is alive but unconscious.
In some states, a parent does not automatically have decision-making power, whether medical or financial for a child of the age of 18. This can cause delays in the process and make it difficult to get a decision in a timely manner or access funds to meet the financial obligations of the child. In the meantime, your child’s health condition may warrant a quick decision–and a healthcare power of attorney makes it clear who is the child’s formal decision-maker.
Without these documents, parents may have to petition for guardianship in order to make health care or financial decisions for their child. The petition takes time and money, valuable resources in an emotional crisis. Every situation is different, and the very best approach is to have clear, blanket permission to make the important decisions that will affect your child’s life.
When a person turns 18, their medical information is protected by HIPAA under different regulations. As a parent, you no longer have automatic access to a child’s medical information. In the accident scenario, the hospital is not legally allowed to share whether the patient is located in the hospital under HIPAA laws.
A HIPAA authorization form is an estate planning document that names the people who are legally allowed to access a person’s medical documents or learn about their care. This document is also useful for parents of a young adult, so they can retain some information about their child’s medical documents.
Legal Document Changes
Aside from your emergency medical documents, turning 18 may also warrant other changes to the other documents in your estate plan. If you still have minor children, you may want to modify your legal guardianship documents, so the older child can be the guardian of the minor children. This depends on the ages and temperaments of your family members, and it can be a delicate situation. You’ll want to discuss these changes with an estate planning attorney.
As your children grow and their personalities change, you may create different trusts or financial distributions. If one child chooses to go to college and another doesn’t, you may choose to allocate the funds in a way that you see as fair. This depends on you, your financial plan, and your children’s personalities.
As always, consult with a trusted estate planning attorney when considering these changes. When a child turns 18, there’s a lot for a parent to celebrate. But there’s also a lot to consider when it comes to your planning documents. Side by Side Planner can help you begin to make these considerations. Visit www.sidebysideplanner.com for more information.