Can you imagine a scenario where your child is away at college, and you receive a frantic call in the middle of the night from their roommate informing you of a horrible accident? You are alerted to the fact that your child is alone, scared, and lying in the hospital, hundreds of miles away, but the on-call doctor won’t talk to you let alone allow you to weigh in on medical decisions. You are essentially shut out from any and all conversations surrounding your child’s treatment or medical care. Also, while hospitalized, your child’s bills are going unpaid because you can’t access their bank accounts, potentially wreaking havoc on their financial credit. Why? How can this be? This is your child’s future hanging in the balance. The simple answer is that your “child” is no longer a “child” in the eyes of the law because they are over 18. The legal age of adulthood in Texas is 18 years old.
This birthday milestone legally marks the transition from minors to adults, bringing with it major changes in their legal status. These young adults can now vote, enlist in the armed forces, get a tattoo, and make their own financial and medical decisions. They’re also entitled to privacy rights, meaning that anyone not given explicit rights via a power of attorney (financial), medical power of attorney, and HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release, among other vital documents, can be denied critical information and access—even parents!
Power of Attorney (POA)
A power of attorney (POA) essentially grants an agent (a parent) the right to act on behalf of a principal (your adult child) in matters limited only to one’s need for specification. It can be “springing” and activated only upon “incapacitation” or some specified event, or immediately/durable – preferable among anxious parents picturing their children unconscious in the hospital.
There are two types of POAs – financial and medical. The financial POA allows parents to pay bills, make deposits, speak to the landlord, and make other financial decisions on their child’s behalf. The medical POA allows parents to discuss their child’s medical condition with a healthcare provider and gives them the right to make decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so.
When children become legal adults at 18, they have a right to complete privacy under HIPAA. That means no one can see their information without permission—and that includes parents as well, even if you’re paying for college or they’re living in your house. Ask your child to sign a HIPAA release form (which is often included along with the medical power of attorney), to allow health providers to share relevant information.
You may be spending a small fortune on college. Guess what? It still doesn’t entitle you to view your child’s GPA. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) gives parents legal rights over their minor’s academic information—a right that transfers upon turning 18 or starting college. How can you have access to your child’s GPA or class schedule? Most schools offer students the opportunity to sign a FERPA release allowing parental access. Parents can also formally request access for adult children who are still tax dependents.
Other considerations when your child turns 18, deal with banks, credit cards, and lines of credit. For example, once your child turns 18, accounts and investments held in their names become theirs. Check with your banks or investment manager to find out what your next steps are in terms of transferring assets. If willing, you should also have your child designate a beneficiary, and add you as a secondary (aka authorized signer) on accounts allowing you access without ownership.
Additionally, young adults are inundated with credit card offers across college campuses in the United States. Although a practical life necessity, credit cards, can often drive inexperienced spenders deeply into debt. The smartest and safest way to get a credit card is to add your child to your account. The dual benefit involves: parents monitoring transactions (how much is spent on shopping or late-night pizza?) and students getting an immediate bump in their credit score, which is a must for things like renting apartments, signing up for utilities, and getting their own cell phone plan.
Although, in the protective eyes of a parent, your child will forever be your “baby.” However, this is certainly not the case in the eyes of the law. Once your child turns 18 years old, he or she is legally an “adult” and has complete rights and autonomy over their privacy, healthcare, and finances. It is critical to not only speak to your child about these rights but ensure that their affairs are in order in case of an emergency. Contact the Kazi Law Firm today to learn more about your young adult’s “must-have” documents before heading off to college.