Protecting Your Young Adult Child

by Mark Mulchek

From the first moment you hold your child in your arms, parents serve the important role of caretaker for their children. Many consider parental guidance to be a duty for life. However, in the eyes of the law, everything changes when your child turns 18.

Parents can be caught off guard by the stark changes that occur when a child reaches legal adulthood. From a legal perspective, an 18-year old is a fully-functioning adult who operates independently from his or her parents. This has important implications for critical healthcare and financial matters that can be both frustrating and devastating for parents.

Consider this scenario: you learn that your college-age child has been rushed to the hospital following a car accident. You call the hospital, only to discover the doctors and nurses can’t share information with you, or involve you in critical treatment decisions, due to federal healthcare privacy laws. It may not matter if your child is still covered under your health insurance policy, if you’re footing the bills, or if you know your child’s wishes better than anyone else. In these circumstances, you may have no more right to access their healthcare information than a stranger. This can be a deeply shocking experience to parents, particularly when they’ve become accustomed to helping their child in times of need.

Fortunately, a gut-wrenching situation like this can be avoided with one proactive step. Here’s what parents and young adult children need to know about putting a Durable Power of Attorney in place.

1. It’s likely the most important legal document an 18-year-old needs. Most households with recent high school graduates are focused on college applications, scholarship essays, and financial aid forms. Parents and children should consider adding a Durable Power of Attorney to their list of high-priority documents. If your child wants you to be able to step in and make healthcare or financial decisions in the event they become incapacitated, they should consider signing a Durable Power of Attorney document to name you as the “attorney-in-fact.”

2. It’s easy to put in place.
 Parents and children are often pleasantly surprised that a Durable Power of Attorney can be created without a lot of time or expense. Though it’s a topic no one relishes talking about, most find it to be one that is straightforward, prudent, and offers great peace of mind.

3. It can be customized. 
The document can be designed to fit the child’s circumstances and preferences to give both parents broad and equal latitude, to name one parent as the primary decision-maker, or to specify if a parent is not to be involved. The child can decide if it becomes effective immediately or when a physician determines that the child can’t make decisions for themselves. It can also stipulate as to end-of-life wishes.

4. It can always be amended later.
 Later in life, particularly after a child marries, he or she can always amend the Durable Power of Attorney document to name a spouse as attorney-in-fact. At that point, you will have done your job, and protected your child during the years of early adulthood when they may have no one else to act in their best interest.
After years of caring for their children, it can be strange and shocking for parents to have to ask for the authority to continue to look after their child’s best interests. Having a child grant you authority to do so under a Durable Power of Attorney is a simple way to ensure you can still be there when they need you the most.

Mark Mulchek is a partner at Carmody MacDonald where he represents individuals, owners of closely-held businesses and corporations in the areas of estate planning, business law, and real estate. Contact Mark at [email protected] or 314-854-8600.

This column is for informational purposes only. Nothing herein should be treated as legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements. Read our full Legal Disclaimer.