When your child turns eighteen, your world suddenly changes because your child becomes a legal adult. In the estate planning context, there are several ways that this important birthday will affect you.
Access to Health Records
Parents act as their children’s legal representatives and have access to health information on behalf of their children. People over age eighteen have a right to privacy in their health records through a federal law called HIPAA and similar state laws. They also have the right to make their own healthcare decisions. When your child turns eighteen, you lose the ability to talk to his doctors on his behalf without his permission. If he goes away to college and you call the campus health center to ask about a recent appointment, the doctors and nurses cannot discuss it with you.
Your child may want you to have continuing access to his health records. In that case, he could sign a written authorization with the health care provider. Alternatively, if your child has ongoing serious medical needs, he may want to sign a durable power of attorney allowing you to make medical decisions if he cannot.
Access to Financial Records
When your child reaches age eighteen, banks and financial institutions allow him to have his own bank accounts. Previously, he may have had a special joint bank account with you. Whether the bank takes you off the account or not depends on the type of account. If you are no longer on the account, you cannot check the balance or make deposits and withdrawals.
Further, your child will need to pay the bills on any credit cards that are not joint accounts. He now has the ability to enter into contracts and agreements himself, when before you would have had to give permission.
Your child can stay on your health insurance until he reaches age 26. If he has significant health problems that will exceed the insurance he thinks he can afford, you should talk about planning now to pay future medical bills. You may want to talk to your estate planning attorney about setting up a special needs trust.
Wills and Trusts
Your child can make his own will or set up a trust when he reaches age eighteen. If he has any significant earnings or inheritances received before turning eighteen, you will lose access to those funds. He can dispose of them as he wishes, but if it is a lot of money, you may want to talk to him about investing or setting up a retirement account.
Guardianship and Conservatorship
If you are the guardian of a child, the guardianship will end when he turns eighteen because he is legally an adult. Sometimes, parents recognize that their children will not be able to live independently after turning eighteen because of special needs or illness. In that case, they may need to set up a conservatorship, which is like a guardianship but for adults.
Planning your estate? Look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful estate planning advice. Janet’s more than 20 years of legal experience will give you confidence and peace of mind. To schedule a “Get Acquainted” meeting, visit Janet's website or call her office at (650) 469-8206.