Your child just graduated from High School-Congratulations… You no longer have any legal rights!
In most states, when your child turns 18 years old they are considered by law to be an adult. This means that your legal rights as a parent or guardian change. For example, once your child reaches the age of majority, parents no longer have the authority to:
• Make health care decisions
• Access educational records
• Manage money for their child
These issues are often overlooked, as the parents are most likely to continue to pay for tuition and have the child covered on their health insurance plans. The way to address this issue is through the execution of certain legal documents.
A child who has reached the age of majority, can authorize a designated agent to handle their financial and legal matters through the execution of a durable financial power of attorney. In many cases a child will name as agent one or both parents, or a trusted family member or friend. The power of attorney may be prepared so it is effective from the time it is signed or may be “springing” which means it is effective upon some specified event. This document could be written to allow the agent to perform a variety of transactions including access to bank accounts, sign tax returns, handle a car registration, sign a lease, and access grades from school.
With respect to health care decisions and access to related information, health care powers of attorney, living wills, or a written combination of the two is known as an advance health care directive. A durable health care power of attorney and health care treatment instructions (living will) is a document which allows the child who has reached the age of majority (or is a high school graduate or emancipated minor) to express preferences related to health care and to appoint a third party to make health care decisions when the child is unable to act. The living will section of the document allows the individual to expressly state health care directions in advance of when the individual is incompetent has an end-stage medical condition or is permanently unconscious.
Once your child crosses the threshold into adulthood, parents no longer have unrestricted access or authority to help and access information for their young adult. Without these legal documents in place, financial institutions, academic institutions and health care providers will generally not openly discuss matters with a parent unless the child has provided specific written authorization. The durable power of attorney and advance health care directive are useful documents to execute before a time of necessity arises.