Your Child Reaches the Age of 18 – They Are an Adult Now

The Fourth of July is behind us and the start of a new school year will be here before we know it.  If you are a parent with children going to school – including those headed off to college – you are probably already starting your “school” shopping. 

If you have a child headed for college, here are a few items to add to your list of “school” shopping:

  • A college age child is likely to be 18 years old.  As a parent, you no longer have the parental authority to act on the child’s behalf.  If your child is unable to make medical decisions for themselves – and yes, at the age of 18 you no longer have the say – does your child have a medical power of attorney or health care directive?  This is important whether your child is going away to college or perhaps staying in the home area. 
  • Also, at the age of 18, your child is deemed to be able to make financial decisions.  In today’s world, many financial accounts are virtual and we don’t have any paper to identify these assets.  Do you know where your child’s assets are and how to access their accounts?  And, more importantly, do you have authority under a power of attorney to do so?  If you don’t have a power of attorney, you have no right to access this information.

It is very easy for parents to overlook these two very important documents when their children reach the age of 18.  After all, you have been making decisions for 18 years for them, so why do you need to change that now? 

Here are but a few situations that your child not having the above documents could create problems:

  • Natural parents are divorced.  Regardless of which parent a child lives with, does one parent have more authority than the other?  Those child custody agreements may not be effective any longer once a child reaches the age of 18.
  • Child without a health care directive/power of attorney has not designated who will be responsible for making medical decisions in the event the child is unable to do so.  Child has suddenly sustained an illness or injuries and is unlikely to recover.  Each parent has different views on whether to continue with life support or end life support.  Which parent governs?
  • Same situation as above but child’s email account is needed to be accessed and no one knows the password.  Who has authority to gain access?
  • Same situation but access to child’s bank account is needed.  No power of attorney was signed.  How would you go about gaining access to account?

I don’t mean to be doom and gloom, for a child going off to college is an exciting time in their life (and a big adjustment for mom and dad).  But, these documents are very important to have in place as soon as your child reaches the age of 18.  Because once they do, mom and dad, they are considered an adult and in charge of themselves – regardless of whether they still live under your roof and you provide for their support.  Have a discussion with your child and make an appointment to have these documents prepared sooner rather than later – just as an ounce of prevention.

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About the Author

Kay Sowa is a paralegal in the Trusts and Estates Group at Capehart & Scatchard, P.A. She is an IRS Enrolled Agent, an Accredited Estate Planner®, and a Certified Trust and Fiduciary Advisor. She oversees the trust and estate administration practice for the firm. She is an accomplished author and lecturer who has frequently spoken on behalf of a number of organizations including the National Business Institute and the Institute of Paralegal Education.

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