At this time of the year, millions of people across the country are preparing to send their sons and daughters off to college, and that transition often comes with a wide range of bittersweet emotions. On one hand, it can give you a gratifying sense of pride to realize that you successfully navigated your child’s infancy and childhood – and survived their adolescent years. On the other hand, you have to accept the cold reality that your “babies” are now adults, especially in the eyes of the law.
Even if your children are not college-bound after high school, a lot of other changes kick in when they reach the magical age of legal adulthood. When a child reaches the age of 18, they can vote, serve on a jury, join the military, and enjoy other privileges traditionally entrusted to older citizens. They also can make their own decisions regarding buying a car, signing contracts, and getting married, all without any need of parental consent.
While reaching the age of 18 is a milestone in an individual’s development, there still are many areas where an 18-year-old going off to college may benefit from the guidance of a trusted individual in their life. Whether it is regarding choices they will have to make or access to information in emergency situations, they need to have someone they can rely on, and who better than a parent?
Access to your children’s information
When a child reaches the age of 18, they gain independence in many ways, including independent access to their personal information, leaving you, the parent, out of the loop. It is important that our kids have the independence they need to grow and mature, but as good parents, we also want to stay in the loop about how they are caring for themselves.
However, once your 18-year-old is old enough to be granted all the privacy protections of an adult, it means you are no longer considered their legal representative, which also means you can be barred from having access to their personal information. Under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), your adult children’s medical records are strictly between them and their health care providers.
Think about the risks involved with that. If your son or daughter were to become physically or mentally incapacitated, even temporarily, it is possible that you would have no say in making medical decisions for them. Many parents are unaware of that restriction, and it can be a shock for them to discover it, especially when facing a crisis situation requiring immediate action.
That is why you should arrange to have a Power of Attorney agreement signed by your child before they leave home.
A Power of Attorney document is a written authorization which allows your child, as the named principal, to formally appoint you to make decisions and take actions on their behalf if they are unable to do so. The concept behind a Power of Attorney contract is that the person entrusted to serve as the agent or “attorney-in-fact” within the scope of the agreement is expected to make informed, good-faith decisions in the best interest of the named principal (in this instance, your son or daughter).
Without the legal permission granted to you through Power of Attorney, you could be denied access to your own child’s medical records in the case of a health care emergency, or from seeing their school and financial documents if there’s ever a question about them. Your child’s Power of Attorney would enable you to legally step in and immediately take charge of a situation requiring your critical decision.
Have less to worry about
A Power of Attorney document provides great peace of mind, which can be especially reassuring at the awkward transitional stage of children leaving home for the first time. Up to this point in their lives, you have had to make a lot of decisions for them, and it can be difficult to relinquish that essential responsibility.
The attorneys at Cordell Planning Partners can offer insightful guidance to help you navigate these important documents and make the best plans for you and your family.