For many parents, it’s hard to accept their 18-year-old son or daughter as an adult. Time moves astoundingly fast—it seems like only yesterday that you were dropping them off at their first day of kindergarten, and now your beloved little one is all grownup and heading off to college.
But whether their parents are ready or not, children officially become an adult in the eyes of the law when they reach their state’s age of majority. In Florida, the age of majority is 18. That means, once your child turns 18 in our state, you’ll no longer have access to his or her medical or financial records, and you won’t be able to make decisions in his or her name.
This can come as an unpleasant surprise to parents when emergency situations arise. If a student experiences a serious medical emergency, parents are often shocked to discover they are unable to access information about their child’s condition because of privacy laws in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. When a child turns 18, parents may have no more right to obtain medical information about them than they would a stranger–—even if the parents are the ones paying their health insurance. This may result in difficulties determining the best course of treatment, and waste precious time in figuring out how treatment authorization can be obtained.
Happily, these types of disasters can be avoided with proper planning. In particular, is one important document that your teen should sign before leaving for college—a Power of Attorney. Depending on how they’re drafted, there are two main benefits that this type of document can offer:
Power of attorney for health care. You can draft a Power of Attorney that designates a trusted agent to make medical decisions in your name in the event that you are incapacitated and cannot make decisions for yourself. By assigning medical power to their parents, teens put two trusted agents—their parents—in charge of their healthcare in emergency situations.
Power of attorney for finances. You can also assign another person the power to make financial decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so. This can be useful in situations such as car registration renewal, tax return signings, and paying bills for your teen. It could also come in handy if a legal situation arises require immediate action, and your child is unable to handle it in person.
Starting the Discussion
Excited, eager, and ready to assert their independence, your teen might not exactly love the idea of signing away even a tiny bit of privacy to a parent.But if your young-adult child leaves home and heads to college without signing a Power of Attorney, both of you could experience undesirable and distressing consequences.Click To Tweet
The first step is starting the discussion with your young-adult child. To begin the conversation, it’s a good idea to talk with an attorney with experience in planning Power of Attorney for families. An experienced estate planning attorney can guide you through the different options available to you and your family, and help you draft a document that best suits your family’s unique needs. A Power of Attorney is a powerful document that should be considered and created carefully, so it’s crucial to work with a skilled attorney to ensure its proper and most effective creation.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.