Legalese — Protecting Your Adult Teenagers

There are a lot of milestone birthdays in your child’s life.  Turning 10 feels like a big deal when you turn 10 because now you are ‘double digits.’  13 makes you a teenager.  15 marks the quinceanera, 16 is sweet (and comes along with a driver’s license), and 18 makes you (legally) an adult.

Of course, we know as parents that most 18-year-olds are a far cry from being ‘real’ adults.  They need help with medical issues and financial transactions, applying for college, and a host of other issues.  Here’s the problem, though: without their express permission, we can’t help them.  Because legally, they are independent adults without legal guardians who can do things for them.  HIPAA all of a sudden kicks in and we no longer have access to their medical records.  Their financial records are private.

Often, we don’t notice this transition because they are with us.  When we go to the doctor or the bank with our children, they are there to give permission for us to speak on their behalves, or for the doctor or financial advisor to speak to us.  It happens seamlessly.  However, when they leave us, to go to college or the military or wherever they go, we can no longer make those phone calls for them.  Their business is their business, even if we are footing the bill for their business and even if they want us to help in their business.

Surely, you say, there is a way around thisI can’t be sending this baby-child teenager off to college without my being able to act as a safety net if the need arises.

The answer to that is, “Yes, there is a way around this.”  That answer is powers of attorney. You can get both medical and financial powers of attorney for your teenage/adult children that allow you to act on their behalf without violating HIPAA or other privacy laws.  These are simple documents and usually relatively inexpensive to get.  While newly minted adults may chafe at the idea of giving up control over their lives to the adults they just broke free of, the very first time they need you to do something you can’t do may change their minds.  These powers of attorney are easily revocable, so as soon as they get their footing in the adult world, they can rescind the power they have given you.  They’re also not a bad idea to have in the event something catastrophic happens – if, God forbid, your son or daughter gets into a car accident and medical decisions need to be made, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have things pre-planned and a decision maker in place?  Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have someone who could deal with his or her student loans and credit cards while he or she recovers?

It’s not always fun to talk about these things on the front end, but it’s worse to have to deal with them on the back end if you haven’t.  Simple fixes can help avoid big problems down the line.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  It is being offered for informational purposes only.  

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