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Good To Know

Maintain Legal Protection Over Your College Age Child

By Colin Smith | Contributor

As a parent of teenage children, I hate learning to let go.  After we finally learn to do so, life throws us another curveball.  Six words make my heart hit the floor: “Dad, you’ll NEVER believe what happened!”  After my heart starts again, several things come to mind.  Firstly, I probably would believe what happened.  Despite what my children think, I really was young once.  Secondly, I can hear your voice – so no matter what it is, it could have been worse.  And thirdly, I’m fortunate to be there for someone else, and they’re lucky to have someone to call.  We all need help from time to time – none of us are an island, as my mother used to say.

Six words make my heart hit the floor: “Dad, you’ll NEVER believe what happened!”

Every legal adult – and that includes 18-year-old teenagers – needs someone at some point.  Once a child becomes 18, they’re legally an adult, and your power to make health and financial decisions for them has officially expired.  And for those of you parents who are married, you probably think, “If something happens to me then my spouse can make those decisions.”  Not quite true – and an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

Two power of attorney documents enable one person to make decisions for another: a statutory durable power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. A statutory durable power of attorney 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.  

Two other documents round out what we consider a simple estate plan: a will, and a guardianship in the event of later incapacity. The latter is a legal declaration of a person naming who they wish to serve as their guardian if they ever require one.  (By the way, such a declaration is arguably more famous for who it disqualifies than who it nominates.)  In cases where a teenager’s parents are no longer married, the declaration hopefully avoids any contested litigation.  And, while few things make us shudder more than the premature passing of our children, these things can happen.  A simple will avoids what can be a painful probate process.

I always counsel my clients to call me when major life events occur, and a child turning 18 is one such event.  This is also a good time for parents to re-evaluate their estate plans or create one if they don’t have them.

For the college-bound freshman, parents should get and keep these in a safe place.  Keep copies of financial aid information, copies of leases, contact information for the university’s clinic or health center, and if the student has a roommate, contact information for the roommate.  

I always counsel my clients to call me when major life events occur, and a child turning 18 is one such event.  This is also a good time for parents to re-evaluate their estate plans or create one if they don’t have them.  If you pass away intestate and your child is an heir, the child would receive his or her inheritance in full.  In other words, if an 18-year-old has one 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.  There are still ways to protect and guide them!  Talk to your estate planning lawyer about these matters today.


Colin Smith is an estate planning and probate attorney at  Colin Smith Law, PLLC. Colin completed his undergraduate studies at The University of Texas at Austin and earned his law degree from Southern Methodist University.  Colin’s ability to connect with people and develop a strong rapport, along with his experience and keen sensitivity to their needs, feelings, and situations, make him an ideal choice as an estate planning attorney. It goes without saying that these are delicate, difficult, and important end-of-life decisions that require finesse and wisdom. Reach him at colinsmithlaw.com.

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