As your child reaches the monumental milestone of turning 18, you may feel overwhelmed trying to navigate the legal maze surrounding their medical and financial decisions. Gain peace of mind by arming yourself with information to guide your young adult confidently into adulthood. This comprehensive article breaks down key steps for establishing protections and making informed choices.
Understanding the Changing Legal Landscape
When your child turns 18, they are legally considered an adult. This shift means you no longer have the legal authority to make medical and financial decisions on their behalf.
Several important laws and regulations take effect:
- HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act grants young adults control over their medical information. The HIPAA Privacy Rule limits what doctors can share with you about your child’s care without their permission.
- FERPA—The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act—prevents you from accessing your young adult’s educational records without their consent.
- State laws: Most states recognize 18 as the age of majority when citizens gain full adult rights. Some exceptions exist, like the legal drinking age.
While this new independence is exciting, the transition can feel abrupt. Proper planning ensures your young adult has trusted advisors in place to advocate for their best interests if needed.
Establishing medical protections
A vital part of the transition to adulthood is designating someone your young adult trusts to make medical decisions in an emergency.
- Medical power of attorney: This legal document names an agent to act on your young adult’s behalf for healthcare choices if they are incapacitated. Each state has specific regulations about who can serve as an agent, how documentation should be formatted, witnesses required, etc.
- HIPAA authorization: This allows others access to your young adult’s medical information. They can customize permissions according to their preferences. For example, they may want to grant a parent access to communicate with doctors but not see actual records.
- Advance healthcare directive: Also called a living will, this outlines your young adult’s preferences for end-of-life treatment. It offers guidance to loved ones and medical staff in critical moments. Some states combine medical power of attorney with an advance directive in one document.
- Release forms: hospitals, clinics, dental offices, etc. will likely have release forms to allow sharing of your young adult’s medical information. Have forms ready to sign when you arrive for appointments.
Thoroughly researching your state’s specific laws and consulting an attorney ensures protections comply with regulations. Discuss options with your young adult so they understand the benefits and can make informed choices.
Safeguarding financial interests
In addition to medical decisions, your young adult needs to authorize someone they trust to handle financial matters in case of emergency or incapacitation.
- Power of attorney: Assigns decision-making authority for financial transactions like managing bank accounts, paying bills, filing taxes, and accessing safety deposit boxes. There are different types, with varying levels of access. Consult an attorney to craft the optimal power of attorney for your young adult’s needs.
- Representative payee: If your young adult receives Social Security or other government benefits, the Social Security Administration requires them to appoint a representative payee to manage payments.
- Guardianship: For a young adult unable to make financial and healthcare decisions independently, the court can appoint a legal guardian. This involves a more extensive legal process but ensures oversight of the young adult’s best interests.
Granting financial authority to a trusted person provides security and continuity in cases of emergencies. It also helps with routine tasks like paying bills, doing taxes, and monitoring assets.
Crafting a Long-Term Plan
While dealing with immediate needs like medical and financial protections, it’s wise to also develop a long-term life plan for your young adult.
- Family wealth planning session: meet with an attorney and financial advisor to evaluate assets, estate plan, insurance needs, government benefits eligibility, special needs trust creation, and more. Developing a comprehensive plan provides security for years to come.
- Special needs trust: If your young adult has a disability, this financial vehicle allows them to maintain eligibility for government benefits while also providing supplemental funds for quality of life expenses.
- Lifetime care contract: For young adults requiring live-in caregiving, this legal document outlines duties, compensation, housing provisions, and other details covering the caregiver over many years.
- Wills and trusts: Once your young adult has assets to protect, establish estate planning through wills and trusts. This is wise, even for young, healthy adults, to prepare for unexpected events.
Thinking beyond immediate needs protects your young adult well into the future. An attorney experienced in estate and disability planning can help tailor a plan unique to your child’s situation.
Gathering Your Support Network
Don’t go it alone when navigating this transition. Surround your young adult with a diverse support network.
Healthcare Providers: Establishing relationships with doctors, therapists, and other providers allows open communication about evolving needs. Share contact information and medical history with new providers.
Family and Friends: Drawing on trusted loved ones for advice and encouragement promotes confidence. Identify who your young adult feels comfortable turning to in tough situations.
Community Resources: Local support groups, advocacy organizations, therapists, state vocational rehabilitation offices, and independent living centers provide guidance.
Legal and Financial Experts: Consult attorneys, accountants, financial advisors, insurance agents, and other professionals to ensure protections are in place.
While the legal maze surrounding adulthood may seem daunting, proper planning and an engaged support circle empower you and your young adult to navigate it with success. The result is a bright future brimming with possibility and independence.