When a Child Becomes an Adult: Giving Parents Legal Authority to Help
Turning age eighteen is a milestone. For most young adults, turning eighteen means graduating from high school and transitioning to college or beginning a career. Eighteen is also the age when, under state law, a person is no longer considered a child, but an adult with legal rights and responsibilities. Because of this new legal status, the parents of an adult child no longer possess the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of their son or daughter. However, as most parents know, they continue to be involved in their adult child’s life, including helping their child with college expenses, providing a home while their child establishes themselves financially and professionally, accompanying their child to the hospital or doctor, and providing ongoing overall guidance with life’s big and small decisions. Parents never stop being parents no matter how old their child becomes.
Most parents and adult children take for granted their unique relationship, not realizing that when a child turns eighteen, mom and dad no longer have an unfettered right to help their child in certain situations. Take for example the situation where parents are providing financial support for their child’s college education. If a billing issue or other question about tuition comes up, the parents have a right to speak with the college’s financial aid office and access records, right? Wrong. Without authorization by the adult child, a parent cannot access the child’s financial information.
Let’s look at another scenario. Your nineteen-year-old child is admitted to the hospital. You want to speak with the doctor about her condition. You’re the parent and you should be able to obtain this information, right? Wrong again. Under federal and state privacy laws, medical information cannot be shared with anyone other than the adult patient and their physician, that is, medical information cannot be accessed by a third-party without express authorization by the patient. You can imagine how frustrating it would be to be in the dark about your son or daughter’s medical situation.
In extreme cases, where an adult child becomes temporarily or even permanently incapacitated, a parent may need to go to court in order to gain access to the child’s financial and medical information. This legal process involves filing a petition with the local probate court to be appointed as the guardian and conservator over the adult child. This can be an expensive, time consuming, and emotionally draining process.
There are countless situations where the parents of an adult child will encounter difficulty in helping their child because they do not have the necessary legal paperwork. Fortunately, most issues can be addressed with a properly executed financial power of attorney and patient advocate designation (sometimes referred to as a medical power of attorney or advance directive). A financial power of attorney gives a person the authority to act on behalf of another person for legal and financial matters, while a patient advocate designation gives a person the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of another person who is incapacitated. Drafting these documents for an adult child is inexpensive and will help address any number of scenarios.
With a durable power of attorney and patient advocate designation in place, parents and their adult child can have peace of mind knowing mom and dad will be able to help.
Richard R. Zmijewski is an attorney with the Mitzel Law Group PLC serving clients in the Ann Arbor community and greater Detroit Metro. His practice centers on estate planning including revocable living trusts, durable powers of attorney, patient advocate designations, planning for succession of family and closely owned businesses, and also with probate and trust administration matters.