In New York, the age of majority, when a parent is no longer considered the legal guardian of their child, is a surprisingly young 18 years old. It must be noted that 18 years old is not what it once was. It is common for children to remain living with, or financially dependent on, their parents well into their 20’s or 30’s. However, once a child turns 18, their parent is no longer entitled under the law to view their child’s medical or financial records or make many important decisions on their behalf.
While privacy and independence are among the cornerstones of an individual transitioning from child to adult, the law does present several real-world issues. This article will address what you can do to properly prepare your family to confront these issues should the need arise while still respecting the privacy and independence of your child.
The Three Essential Legal Documents
Three essential legal documents are absolutely essential as your older teens and young adults being to make their own way in the world. We have long felt that this information should be taught prior to a child’s graduating high school. This unfortunately rarely happens, so it’s up to parents and professionals to educate older teens and young adults so that they can successfully prepare for whatever may happen.
Durable Power of Attorney
Let’s assume that your daughter is 20 years old, living independently, and paying her bills with her own checking account. If she were to get sick, who will step in and handle her financial responsibilities such as paying rent, utilities and just generally handling her financial affairs until she has recovered and can do so independently? A Durable Power of Attorney is the first essential legal document. It authorizes a parent or other adult to act on her behalf. Having a Durable Power of Attorney in place prior to an accident can prevent older teens and young adults from falling behind on rent, missing car payments, losing a home to foreclosure, or just generally ruining a credit score they will rely on heavily upon in the future.
Healthcare Power of Attorney
What if your 19-year-old son has been in a car accident and is unable to communicate with the doctor or anyone else regarding his treatment? There is also the issue of a parent being allowed to even view medical records under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to make informed decisions. Someone, typically a parent, needs to make vital medical decisions on behalf of their child. The Healthcare Power of Attorney is the second essential legal document. It authorizes the agent named in the document to make medical decisions for the older teen or young adult if they cannot make decisions for themselves. The Healthcare Power of Attorney also contains authorization with respect to HIPAA, allowing the agent to obtain medical records, have discussions with medical personnel, and best be in a position to properly handle a medical emergency until the young adult has regained their health and decision-making ability.
What if your 22-year-old son is faced with a life-threatening illness or accident and is not expected to recover? A Living Will is the third essential legal document. It expresses your older teen or young adult’s preferences regarding life-sustaining treatments should they be unable to express those preferences themselves. This not only allows your child to live their life on their terms and values but also prevents family acrimony that may result from the inherent difficulty in making such a decision. In a Living Will, one can indicate whether or not they wish to be kept alive artificially even though there may be no hope for recovery.
As a parent of young children, I understand that much of the above is difficult to even think about. That is true, but just because something is difficult to think about does not mean it should be ignored. Properly preparing for whatever life may throw at our children is our job as parents. If you have any questions, please let us know.