Do My Adult Children Need an Estate Planning Lawyer? Three Steps You Will Want to Take When Your Child Turns 18

Raising children is one of life’s toughest but most rewarding challenges.

It may not always feel like that. And parenting can be especially challenging when your child reaches the teenage years because you may feel like you’re beginning to lose control of that child’s life.

This is especially true when that child turns 18 because that is when Pennsylvania considers him or her to be an adult with the legal right to govern his or her own life.

Prior to your child turning 18, you are absolutely entitled to access your child’s medical records and to make decisions regarding the course of his or her health care. You are also responsible for your child’s financial affairs, which are considered your financial affairs.

However, that all changes instantly and “magically” on their 18th birthday. Your now-adult child is suddenly and legally entitled to his privacy. You, as parents, no longer have the same level of access or authority over your child’s financial, education, and medical information.

It’s therefore vitally important to plan for that situation and the unexpected. You can do this by setting your child up with the tools that allow you or other family members to step in if disaster strikes.

The ultimate goal in having these documents—discussed further below—created for your child is to avoid having to go to court to obtain legal authority to make time-sensitive medical and financial decisions for that adult child. The court costs and fees alone can be prohibitive but is easily avoided by investing in these simple estate planning tools.

Below are the three tools that every child turning 18 should execute:

  1. Health Care Power of Attorney with HIPAA Release

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”), parents no longer have access to their children’s health care records once that child turns 18.

HIPAA prevents you from receiving medical updates from doctors and medical professionals in the event that your child is unable to communicate his or her wishes to have you involved.

Doctors and medical professionals will instead be the ones responsible for making medical decisions for your adult child.

Without a Health Care Power of Attorney, you will also encounter many obstacles and expenses in order to have the right to receive critical information, including whether your adult child has even been admitted to a particular medical facility and in making medical decisions for your adult child.

This includes hiring attorneys to petition the court to have you appointed as your child’s legal guardian, a process than can cost thousands of dollars and take weeks or months.

All of these expenses can be easily avoided as a Health Care Power of Attorney enables your adult child to designate you or another trusted person to make medical decisions on his or her behalf in the even that adult child is unable to convey his or her wishes.

This can bring great peace of mind in having a Health Care Power of Attorney prepared for your child and it can be done at a fraction of the cost compared to not having one.

  1. Durable Financial Power of Attorney

Another important tool is a Durable Financial Power of Attorney, which is like a Health Care Power of Attorney but instead allows for the appointed agent to handle that adult child’s financial affairs in the event he or she becomes incapacitated.

Without it, you cannot access your child’s bank account or credit cards to make sure the bills are being paid. Additionally, if you needed to access financial accounts in order to manage or resolve any problems, you may be forced to seek the court’s permission to be appointed as a guardian for your adult child.

  1. Will

It may also be a good idea to help your adult child set up his or her Will depending on the circumstances.

For example, if your child has any funds that he or she received while a minor, a Will can help to ensure that those funds pass in accordance with your adult child’s wishes rather than letting state laws make that determination.

The default rules could make you the recipient of your child’s estate, which could frustrate the estate plan that you have carefully created, subjecting you to additional estate tax or inheritance taxes, or eroding the asset protection plans you have created.

Another example is if your child is the current beneficiary of a family trust, whether created by you or your parents, there are important considerations that an estate planning attorney can evaluate to ensure that your family legacies is protected if the worst should come to pass.

If you have a child or grandchild who is approaching adulthood, talk to your estate planning attorney about having that child consider and execute these crucial documents to protect him and her from the curveballs that life can throw at us.

Have a child or grandchild turning 18 and heading off to college in the near future? UTBF has a “College Preparation Estate Planning Protection Program” that helps your adult child to prepare and execute all of the estate planning documents they need (and that you want them to have).

If you already know you want this, call Lisa, Tammy or Kara at (610) 933–8069 for an appointment and pricing.

David M. Frees, III
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Attorney, Speaker and Author
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