Any good parent aspires to teach their children self-responsibility, good decision making, and the ability to plan for adversity—among many other things. Until a child has flown the nest, it rests on the parent to act as a backstop and guide. That being said, it’s so important that parents coach their children through the drafting of essential estate planning documents as soon as they turn 18.

In 2020, just 16.4% of adults aged 18-34 have estate planning documents in place. Teenagers only account for a sliver of that already-frightening number, most likely because most parents don’t realize how essential certain estate planning documents are for those just entering legal adulthood. You see, once a child reaches the age of majority—18 in all states except Nebraska, Mississippi, and Alabama—a parent loses the ability to intervene in affairs concerning health and finances.

This means that if your child ends up incapacitated in a car accident, physicians are not obligated to share information concerning vital health records…unless you possess a release authorizing them to do so. Similarly, without the appropriate estate planning documents in place, you lose access to a child’s financial affairs, including bank accounts, scholarship funds, and rental agreements. Even checking on a child’s grades can become impossible without proper authorization… even if you are footing the bill for their education!

This can come as a rude awakening to parents who still see their children as, well, children…despite the fact that they are now old enough to vote. Revising this perception is important, sure…but so is the ability to make important healthcare decisions if your child becomes unable to do so. The two documents described below are the ones you need to ensure that you can still care for your child, even as they begin adulthood.

1. Medical Power of Attorney or an Advance Directive with a HIPAA provision

This document grants you the ability to make healthcare decisions on a child’s behalf. In this document, your child will be able to offer direction concerning decisions you might need to take. Capitalize on this experience to teach your child about self-responsibility. Ensure that you include a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release, as this will grant you access to important healthcare information and records.

2. General Durable Power of Attorney

Much like the above, this document appoints you as an “agent” permitted to make decisions on your child’s behalf. Again, your child will have the opportunity to weigh in on the sorts of permissions they are and are not comfortable granting. This is a good thing! Better they begin taking responsibility for such things sooner rather than later.

3. Educational Information Release (for children continuing schooling) 

As a parent you may be paying tuition, but the provisions of the Federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) may prevent a University from releasing information on registration, grades and GPA to you. A properly executed student information release presented to the school will give you access to the information you may need to monitor and support your student.

Reading this you might be thinking: Really? Now? In this present moment? And while it might seem like there are bigger things than estate planning to worry about, there truly is no better time than the present. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic is provoking uncertainty in health and finances on a scale never before seen. However unpleasant the thought, now is the time to prepare for the worst.

Contacting an experienced attorney is the first step to getting your children’s estate planning documents in order. We are offering virtual consultations to promote the safety of our staff and clients, however, legal services are considered “essential” and we do remain open should your needs require an in-person visit.

Contact Attorney James M. Miskell

Protect yourself—and help protect your children—by offering this important guidance to those of your dependents entering adulthood. We look forward to helping you and your children with your estate planning needs.

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