What does it mean to be 18 years old?  From a personal perspective, it means college and freedom.  However, from a legal perspective, it can be a liability, not only for the 18-year-old but for you, the parents, as well.  When your child turns 18, parental legal rights dramatically change, especially in regard to financial, educational, or health rights, and this can be detrimental to their own life, especially if they are away at school.

This does not mean your children are now completely independent from you.  You still may pay their tuition, you still may pay their rent, you still may even do their laundry, but you no longer have access to their financial, educational, or health records.  However, certain steps can be taken to secure you some legal authority to make important decisions, whether health related or financial, in support of your children’s future.

The first step you can take is to set up a health care proxy and power of attorney.  This provides a certain level of security and preparation in case anything happens while your children are away.  A healthcare proxy is much more important than you might think.  Think of it like having insurance or a will; both are utilized in preparation of unforeseen events.  For instance, you may have flood insurance if you live near the water.  This does not mean you are exposed to constant flooding.  Rather, you have taken a necessary precaution in case of a bad storm which may cause sporadic flooding.  A healthcare proxy works the same way.  It is a precautionary measure in case of an emergency that allows you to take control of the situation and provide the necessary support your children may need.  At this point, you may be asking yourself, “But what exactly is a healthcare proxy?”  A health care proxy is a signed legal document whereby the child appoints either you or another trusted adult the power to make medical related decisions if he is unable to.  Accordingly, the language should mirror “HIPAA,” the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, such that the proxy would allow for the disclosure of medical information by the patient’s doctor.  As a result, you would now be privy to any information regarding an illness or injury, which could happen at any instance, that could render your children unable to act on their own accord.

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This year, a relative of mine left for her freshman year of college, several hours away from home.  As if acclimating to college life was not difficult enough, a bad case of pneumonia was spreading around campus like wild fire.  Within a few weeks my relative was stricken ill and had to be transported to the hospital.  Her parents were alerted to the fact that she was being transported by the school, however, they were unable to receive any information from the doctors themselves at the hospital.  Why?  They did not have a pre-existing proxy allowing for the disclosure of medical information.  They left their house immediately, driving haphazardly to the hospital near their daughter’s school, several hours away.  However, the lack of proxy was still a lingering problem.  After speaking with me, I explained what a health care proxy is and put them in contact with the appropriate lawyer who could quickly prepare said document.  They picked up the documents on their way to the school, but there was still an issue; they needed their daughter’s signature as well as a witness.  After getting to the hospital and hearing directly from their daughter, they had her sign the proxy.  There is nothing worse than the fear that coincides with the uncertainty of your child’s welfare.  Now, with the proxy tendered, they were prepared for any future medical emergencies that may surface.

While your child’s physical health takes priority, you should also keep in mind your children’s financial health.  For instance, study abroad programs are offered at every college, and many students take advantage of said opportunity.  If your children decide to study abroad, you may want to consider becoming a power of attorney for them.  This will enable you to sign documents for them, or even wire money from his account in their absence.  Now imagine that your son is studying abroad and was offered an internship position upon his return.  However, he needed to set up a place of residence in the city where the internship is.  This would require him to sign the appropriate lease, but would be unable to because electronic signatures are not offered.  If you were granted power of attorney, you would be able to sign the documents for him, ensuring that upon his return, he would be able to start at the internship immediately as he would have secured a residence to lease for the given period of time.

Simple legal documents, like the health care proxy or power of attorney, would not only make your life easier, but will heavily relieve potential stress or anxiety that you may incur without them.  Take the time to not only lessen your burden, but provide an extra layer of security to your children.  Contact us to get started!

Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. This information is not intended to be a substitute for special individualized legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific legal issues with a qualified legal professional.

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