As you may know from my social media and blogs, I have a freshman in college this year and a high school senior.  By February I will have two 18 year old children. This is an important milestone to be celebrated, but there are so many changes in store when this milestone hits!  I thought I would share some knowledge on tasks to undertake and how this can impact financial and legal plans within your household.

    Whether your young adult is going to college, studying a trade or jumping right into the workforce be sure you have legal documents in place before they head out the door. As we all know accidents and illnesses can happen to anyone at any time, even young adults. You want to be able to speak to health care providers, keep informed and help them make decisions for your teen once they leave home. While this may sound like you aren’t letting go remember most teens have never made their own appointments or gone to an appointment without us, let alone made important medical decisions on their own. Please note that these are documents everyone should have in place in case they become unable to make decisions for themselves.

    What happens if your young adult has an emergency?

    Most young adults feel they are invincible. But, as a general rule, young adults or anyone for that matter should appoint another person to make decisions on their behalf in the event of their incapacity. Also, if your adult child is away at university, you may need to sign documents, open/close bank accounts, or prepare other documents on their behalf.  Here are some documents they may need in case of an emergency:

    Health Care Proxy (also referred to as a healthcare agent or medical power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, or durable power of attorney for health care). This authorizes you to make medical decisions on your teen or young adult’s behalf. It gives you access to their medical records and the ability to converse with their medical health care providers. Remember, even if they are still under your health insurance plan that does not give you access to their medical records or the ability to converse with providers. By signing a healthcare proxy, your teen is appointing you to act on their behalf in making medical decisions in case they cannot make those decisions for themselves.

    Each state has different laws that govern the execution of a health care proxy (state laws differ on whether a medical proxy has to be notarized or merely witnessed). And, therefore the legal form you sign will be specific to the state where it will be used. In many states, the HIPAA authorization is rolled into the standard medical proxy form. In addition, a healthcare proxy can include a Living Will or you can execute a separate document stating your wishes for end-of-life medical treatment. Alternatively, advance directives (e.g., a living will or do-not-resuscitate (DNR)) help guide the specific decisions of doctors and caregivers if a person becomes incapacitated and incapable of expressing his or her wishes regarding medical treatment.

    HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) authorization (also called a HIPAA release). This is a narrower document in that allows healthcare providers to disclose your teen’s healthcare information to whomever they specify.

    This document alone will often be enough for you to get information from the health care institution treating your child. In a HIPAA authorization, a young adult can stipulate that they don’t want to disclose information about sex, drugs, mental health, or other details that they prefer to keep private. As with the broader healthcare proxy, a HIPAA release can also include a Living Will.

    Durable Power of Attorney (Durable POA)

    This enables a designated agent to make financial decisions on your child’s behalf. The POA can provide that power vests in you immediately after signing the document or (springing) that it vests only if your child becomes incapacitated. This document enables you, the designated agent to sign tax returns, access bank accounts, pay bills, make changes to your child’s financial aid package, or figure out tuition problems, among other things. Durable POA forms vary by state. In some states, the medical POA (or healthcare proxy) can be included in the Durable POA.

    A Simple Will

    Once your child reaches the age of majority, they are likely earning income and have some accumulated assets. These may be assets they acquired as minors in a custodial IRA account or a UTMA (Uniform Transfers to Minors Act) account. Most young adults do not have substantial personal assets, so a simple will may be all that is needed initially. If a person dies without a will, known as dying intestate, their assets will be distributed following their state’s intestacy laws. In the event of a tragedy, loved ones can benefit from knowing the young adult’s exact wishes.

    **Please note that each state has its own variations of these forms and the way they can be combined so you should review your individual state’s laws and the state laws where your young adult is/will be residing or speak to a local attorney who practices in this.

    What Else Changes at 18?

    To us they will always be our babies, but under the law they have now achieved adult status. That status allows them to vote, serve in the military, serve on a jury, sign a contract, and get married without our consent.

      • All males with US citizenship (with very few exceptions) must register for the selective service once 18.
      • Even though you may be paying or helping pay for their education, the FERPA law says you no longer have access to your child’s grades once they turn 18. That’s right, you can’t call the registrar and ask to see your 18-year-old’s transcript even if you are signing the tuition check.  You can however obtain an Educational Power of Attorney.  This is especially useful if your child has special needs and will need help with their IEP and continued education.
      • As we stated above, you no longer automatically have the authority to make healthcare decisions for them. This is true even if they are still covered by your health insurance and you are paying the bill. This means that if your child has an accident or illness and is temporarily disabled, you may need court approval to act on their behalf or even to be informed of their medical status.

    What if my Child has Special Needs?

    Turning 18 when a child has a disability or complex medical condition is also a very big milestone and involves much of the above but may also include, filing for benefits, changes to transition and educational plans, as well as deciding on supported decision making or guardianship arrangements.  Stay tuned for our blog next month to go into more detail!

    I know we don’t like to think about anything happening to our young adult, but they will always be our babies no matter how old they are and we want to be there for them when needed.  These documents allow us to be there for them when then need us without roadblocks because of thier age. 

    If you have any questions or I can assist you in anyway please reach out. As always, I am here to help!