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The Plain English Attorney

You Still Think of Them as Your Babies – But the Law Doesn’t.

On top of all the other transitions that occur with children throughout adolescence, they’re becoming adults, and maybe they are going away to college. They’re starting to assert their independence. The law often makes everything cut and dried. They were a minor before, but now they’re not, and all these things are expected of them as adults. But as parents with children, you often realize that it is not a quick, clear transition. Your children, who are no longer children, still end up needing a little bit of help. There are, however, some legal requirements in place that parents often need to address.

Role Reversal: Parents Now Need to Ask Permission from the Child.

I always get calls from parents right around the time their children are going off to school, especially if they are travelling abroad where even more documentation is necessary. They are very upset because they went down to their pediatrician’s office to get their kid’s medical records to send to the school she is going to attend in the fall. The parents are surprised when suddenly the doctor they have been seeing for 18 years is refusing to release the child’s medical records. It all has to do with HIPAA requirements which provide medical privacy for those 18 years and older. Your child could have turned 18 yesterday and today you would not be able to access the records without permission because the doctor’s office is no longer allowed to simply provide it to parents upon request.

You also cannot sign tax returns for a child once they turn eighteen. If a daughter’s cell phone is missing and she needs it turned off or her credit card is lost and it needs to be cancelled, you can’t just call the companies and take care of it because the items belong to your child who is now legally considered to be an adult. Parents are often taken off guard because this is the way they have been doing things with their child and they forget that there is now that numerical dividing line.

So What’s a Parent or Guardian to Do?

At a minimum, having a financial power of attorney can allow you to handle financial transactions such as signing tax returns, turning on and off utilities and cell phones, and getting financial information for your child.  Having a health care power of attorney allows you to make those healthcare decisions for your child if they are unconscious and can’t make them for themselves. It also allows you the convenience of getting medical information and medical records in order to get it to the right people.

So I often encourage my clients that, although their child may only be 18 and they may not have an estate, these decisions involve “estate planning.” As a legal adult they do have the ability to make certain decisions for themselves and to keep things private. If they want you to be involved in any legal, financial and medical decisions you really need the power of attorney documents for them in order to do it. This legal status is especially important given the average teen’s propensity for leaving everything to the last minute for mom and dad to do.

If you have any questions about power of attorney or health care power of attorney, or if your children need these and other estate planning documents please call our office at (919) 844-7993. (Or, more accurately, have your now-adult child call our office).

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