Every parent knows that momentous feeling when their child turns 18. It's a major milestone, symbolizing the transition from adolescence to adulthood. While it's a moment of pride and reflection, it also comes with certain legal ramifications. Among these is the notable shift in your ability to make decisions on your child's behalf. Just as they can vote, join the military, and sign contracts on their own, they also now hold full privacy rights and legal autonomy. This is where the Power of Attorney (PoA) becomes a crucial consideration.
Posted on September 24, 2023
Understanding the Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a legal document that grants an individual (the agent or attorney-in-fact) the power to make decisions on another person’s behalf (the principal). For a child who's just turned 18, a PoA allows parents or guardians to act on their behalf in specific situations, especially when they are unable to do so themselves.
Why It’s Essential for Children Turning 18
Medical Emergencies: Imagine your child is in a serious accident and becomes incapacitated. Without a medical power of attorney, you could find yourself in a precarious position where you're barred from making urgent medical decisions on their behalf. A PoA allows you to discuss treatment options, access medical records, and make critical choices, ensuring your child receives the best care possible.
Educational Matters: As your child heads to college, you'll naturally want to stay informed about their academic progress. However, without the appropriate PoA, institutions are bound by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) not to disclose certain information to anyone, including parents. With a PoA, you can communicate with the institution, access grades, and participate in other pertinent academic matters.
Financial Transactions: While turning 18 gives children the autonomy to make financial decisions, it doesn't always equip them with the wisdom to manage complex matters. A financial PoA ensures you can step in, when necessary, to help with bank transactions, handle rent or bill payments, or oversee any other financial obligations.
The Limits and Misunderstandings
While you can still pay your child’s bills after they turn 18, it's essential to note that paying does not equate to decision-making authority. For example, you might be able to pay for your child's medical bills, but without a medical PoA, you won't necessarily have the right to discuss their medical condition or treatment.
Additionally, a common misconception is that if you're paying for your child's college tuition, you automatically have access to their academic records. This is not the case. As mentioned earlier, institutions are legally bound to keep this information confidential unless you have the proper PoA or documented consent.
Drafting the Power of Attorney
When considering a PoA for your child, it's vital to consult with a legal professional. They can guide you through the intricacies, ensuring you draft a document that is both comprehensive and tailored to your needs.
You can opt for:
- Durable Power of Attorney: This remains in effect even if the principal becomes incapacitated.
- Non-durable Power of Attorney: This ceases to be in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated.
- Springing Power of Attorney: This only comes into effect under specific conditions, like if the principal becomes incapacitated.
The journey from adolescence to adulthood is filled with both challenges and opportunities. As parents, our instinct is to protect and guide our children through every phase of life. While the law views an 18-year-old as an adult, equipped with all the rights and responsibilities that come with adulthood, we know that life is a bit more nuanced.
Acquiring a Power of Attorney is not about overriding their independence but ensuring that in moments of uncertainty or crisis, you can step in seamlessly to provide the guidance and support they may need. It's a tool of preparation and love, ensuring you remain a pillar of strength and counsel for your child, no matter their age.