Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Parent's Perspective on Turning 18

Birthday cake for 18 years
Birthday cake for 18 years (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My youngest son turned 18 this weekend. While it was a celebration of his adulthood in the eyes of the world, as a parent I know that my job as a mom is not done, not by far.  In the eyes of the law, my son is now on his own --- if the law only knew the truth. While responsible beyond his years and very mature, he is still a kid in a lot of respects. This is a scary prospect to parents and children alike. No longer can mom or dad "take care of it" -- "it" being speaking to doctors, paying bills, or the multitude of other "mom" or "dad" tasks that our 18+ year olds, who are still kids to us, ask us to do everyday.

Two days before his birthday, I was at the doctor's office with my son for his college physical in order to sign off on the immunization he needs for college. By law, I was the adult and he was the child and he was not legally able to sign that authorization despite the fact that he is not allowed into college without it. Somehow, in the eyes of the law, my son morphed from child to adult in that ensuing 48 hour period and could have walked in and signed for himself two days later.

Some of what you will encounter is frustrating to a parent and to their 18- or 19- or 20-year old. For example, when my other son was at the orthopedist for a sprained finger, and had turned 18 in the interim between injury and appointment, I was not allowed to speak for him to the doctor's staff. I literally stood there patiently (and I use the word "patiently" loosely) waiting while we went through a bizarre scene in order to comply with the law. The staff person asked my son a series of questions about his medical history which he did not know the answer to, and he in turn asked me, I answered him and then he answered them. This went on for each and every question. I kid you not. A little ridiculous, I am sure we would all agree, but legally required nonetheless. Should he have known the answers to some of those questions, maybe or definitely some could argue, but the simple fact was that he didn't and I did. Simple as that. Somehow, implicit in the legal jump from childhood to adulthood evidently should have come a knowledge dump of things in his medical history of which he has no memory because he was a young child.

While there is certainly no shortage of institutions willing to look the other way over this "adult v. child" dilemma when they outstretch their hands to you as parent for payment of the "adult" expenses your child has incurred -- think college tuition, doctor and hospital bills - these same institutions can frustrate us as parents to no end when the "proxy" that is good enough to get a copy of the bill, isn't good enough to see the grades associated with that or the "payer" associated with the health care provider's bill can't get access to the medical records or diagnosis when your child is ill.

Fret not, because there are two documents that are the solution to this predicament -- a durable power of attorney and a health care proxy. These documents are often associated with elder care and estate planning but should not just be utilized in the planning for our aging parents or grandparents. They can also be used to help alleviate the frustration and aggravation felt by both parents and young adult children as well.

A durable power of attorney signed by the adult child can name and permit a parent or other adult to act legally on behalf of the child and help to eliminate some of the impediments that both will face as we navigate this bridge from childhood to adulthood and can be very helpful in the event that your newly adult child needs you to act on their behalf - be it for medical emergencies, financial transactions or other legal necessities. College students headed off to school may soon realize when they are a long car ride or an even longer plane ride away from home that something at home needs their attention or signature. A power of attorney permits the student to authorize the parent to act legally on their behalf and complete the transaction or perform the necessary task. While we all won't run into these situations, I would suggest that you take the time to have one drafted to avoid any potential pitfalls and additional stress when that "adult" of yours is calling mom for help.

The other very helpful and essential legal document for your "adult" child is a health care proxy or advance directive depending upon the nomenclature where you reside. This legal document allows you to make health care decisions for your "adult" child in the event that he or she cannot and have access to their medical records and permit you to discuss their medical condition with the child's doctors. Scary thought that the health care providers no longer can ask or follow your wishes for the care of your child. Especially, if that child is unable to speak for themselves due to some injury or medical condition. Imagine how devastating it would be to a parent to find out that they cannot legally have access to their child's medical diagnosis or condition when an accident or injury occurs, simply because the child is an adult and privacy rules apply.

Being a young, new adult is an exciting and difficult transition for parent and child alike but there are means to help make that transition especially for those who are also embarking on a new adventure in the form of college, a little easier and less stressful. Most of these documents are easily drafted by an attorney who can make sure that your young adult's particular situations are addressed.

As a mom and a lawyer, the first "legal" documents, aside from voter registration, that my sons have completed are these documents.

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