Once children reach the age of majority, the parents are no longer able to make decisions for them, regardless of how much they would like to do so! After the age of majority, typically eighteen, the children legally make decisions for themselves and parents have no rights to do so for them.
Sometimes this can present a problem that the savvy estate planner can foresee and solve. In fact, it is solving a problem the client may not even know exists.
For example, let’s take the typical estate planning couple which has a child, Mary, who just turned eighteen and is leaving for college in August. The child earned money during summers and was able to purchase a car. Here is a list of potential problems which the family might encounter and the solution:
- When Mary’s parents call her dorm, her roommate tells them she’s at the hospital. The parents call the hospital but it will not release any information, citing HIPAA.
- Mary could designate her parents as authorized recipients of medical information with a HIPAA release.
- Mary might need an appendectomy or other surgery. While under anesthesia, the doctors may need direction regarding how to proceed.
- A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care could provide the parents with the authority to direct Mary’s medical care.
- While away at school, Mary decides to go to Europe next summer. She wants to use the money tied up in the value of her car to travel. Since the car is in Mary’s name, her parents cannot sign the title to sell the car.
- Mary could sign a Durable Property Power of Attorney covering the sale of her car, or a General Durable Power of Attorney for all matters.
These are just a few of the reasons to suggest doing some simple estate planning for the adult children along with the more sophisticated planning done for the parents. This may seem like a small item to you (and to you it is), but your clients will think of you and sing your praises when they get that call from their child asking for help, and they are able to help them because of your foresight!
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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