It is that time of year again – time for our kiddos to head back to school. Do you have a child that will be going to college and/or has turned eighteen? If so, you need to remember that, once your child turns 18, you as a parent, no longer have rights to make decisions for them. You do not have the right to make health care decisions without their consent. You do not have the right to make financial decisions without their consent (that means dealing with their bank account, unless you are also named on it). You do not even have the right to talk to the college they may be attending (and you may be paying for) to get information about their grades or anything else. What? Yes, you read that correctly. Once your child becomes an adult, the parent loses all their rights to the child’s information because now that the child is an adult, they have a right to privacy (unless they consent otherwise).
So how do you handle this? You need to make sure that your 18 year old has a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) and a Living Will/ Health Care Surrogate Designation in place BEFORE they leave for college. What will these documents accomplish?
A DPOA will allow your child to appoint you and/or your spouse to act as their agent and help with handling their financial affairs. Essentially, this allows you to step into your child’s shoes and handle anything related to finances, school or benefits they may be entitled to. There are certain powers that the adult child must initial (known as “super” powers) and these include the ability to change who is on a bank account or who the beneficiary is for such things as life insurance or retirement accounts.
A Living Will and Health Care Surrogate Designation (which is often coupled together in the same document) is also known as an advanced directive. The Living Will states that you do not want to be kept alive by artificial means if you are in an end state condition, terminal or persistent vegetative state. The Health Care Surrogate Designation allows you to appoint someone to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so yourself. Your child can appoint you and/or your spouse as their health care surrogate and, in the event something happens while your child is away at school, you can use these document to get information about their medical condition. Without this document, if your child has to go to the hospital, and you are not designated as their health care surrogate, you could be in a situation where the hospital or doctor refuses to give you any information if you were to call to check up on them (I have had that exact situation happen to clients in the past).
So please, before you send your 18 year old off to college, make sure they have a “legal” check-up and get there estate planning documents in order. It could make all the difference!
If you have questions about issues pertaining to your adult child, or simply obtaining a durable power of attorney, living will and health care surrogate for your child, please contact the Law Offices of Laurie E. Ohall, P.A.