By Colin Smith | Contributor
You have a child who is finishing high school. Congratulations! Your son or daughter is now legally an adult. Your independent 18-year-old can sign binding legal documents, make health care decisions for themselves, and handle their own money – without you having any say in it. The poor parents have now lost control over their child – but there is hope. You can get some back! It’s a matter of having proper legal planning.
It may seem scary to you, but once a child becomes 18 years old, his or her parents can no longer make health care or financial decisions for them. Two power of attorney documents enable them to do so: a statutory durable power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. A statutory durable power of attorney document generally specifies who can control the person’s financial matters and under what conditions. A medical power of attorney document specifies who can make medical decisions for that person if they are unable to do so for themselves.
Most attorneys will advise having two additional documents for the teenager to ensure all bases are covered: a will and a guardianship in the event of incapacity, which specifies who the child wants to be their guardian if a court must appoint one. This document can also allow the child to make medical and financial decisions for the parent(s) if the situation merits it.
For the college-bound freshman, parents should keep these in a safe place. It’s equally important to keep copies of financial aid information, any leases that the student has, contact information for the university’s clinic or health center, and if the student has a roommate, contact information for the roommate and his or her parents. It would also help if the student’s financial accounts are joint with the parents being the other party. It is always a good idea to have the student maintain copies of these documents as well.
You know your kids are growing up, but by taking the right legal steps, you can ease them out of the nest a little bit at a time. This is a good time for parents to update their estate plans or create one if they don’t have them. The child would now receive his or her inheritance in full. In other words, if an 18-year-old has one single parent living, and that parent dies without a will, then the student immediately inherits the estate. Many parents do not wish to entrust their life savings to an 18-year-old. Establishing a trust could be an excellent way to cover the child’s needs without distributing the full estate. Talk to your estate planning lawyer about these matters today.
Editor’s Note: Reach Colin Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972.773.9095.