The end of the school year is drawing near, and high school seniors throughout the State of Georgia are starting to make a plan. They are choosing where they want to go to college, what classes they want to take, what dorms they want to occupy, and what interests they want to pursue. But, have they thought about what it means to be going out on their own for the first time? Have you?

In our hearts, our college kids are still just that — kids. They may be starting to explore the wider world without us and they may be moving out on their own for the first time, but they are still our babies. Right? Well, not in the eyes of the law. When kids turn 18, the State of Georgia ceases to see them as a part of the brood. They are out of the nest, legally speaking, and flying solo.

What Happens to Your Child When He or She Turns 18?

In reality, nothing crazy changes. Age is just a number, after all. But, in the eyes of the law, your teen is now an adult. That means, if something happens to your child, you are no longer legally responsible for their care. This is where a plan becomes incredibly important.

But, Isn’t 18 a Little Young to Start Thinking About Estate Planning?

In this case, “estate planning” is a bit of a misnomer. Estate planning makes it sound like we are talking about the best ways to protect your teen’s assets. Maybe you have a little Bill Gates running around the house, but my guess is, your teen doesn’t own much. In reality, estate planning has very little to do with your young adult’s “estate.” It has far more to do with what you can do to help them if the unthinkable occurs.

First and Foremost, Let’s Talk Medical Care 

Despite the fact that your young adult may spend his or her entire college career on your health plan, when your child turns 18, you lose certain privileges. You are no longer entitled to participate in the decision-making for your child’s health care. You may not even be able to speak to a health care professional about what is going on. If the worst should occur, your beliefs, preferences, and opinions may not be taken into account.

  • Make sure your young adult has an Advance Healthcare Directive.

If your child is in an accident, becomes ill, or is injured, resulting in physical or mental incapacity, he or she will need to have a properly-executed legal document that indicates their healthcare preferences and names an individual who is entitled to make medical decisions on their behalf. Without any documentation, this important decision-making will be left to the healthcare providers themselves until you are able to gain legal status. Getting legal status to become involved in your child’s medical decisions without an Advance Healthcare Directive can take precious time.

  • Have your child complete a HIPAA Authorization.

A HIPAA Authorization is a patient privacy release form that gives permission to healthcare professionals to share medical information with specific named individuals. We highly recommend that parents have their young ones complete a HIPAA Authorization, naming the parents as authorized individuals, before the child goes off to school. This document will be essential in case of an emergency. Without this Authorization, a parent may not be able to learn any information about his or her child’s medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment options when it matters most.

  • Initiate a Conversation about End of Life Care. 

As a part of the Advance Healthcare Directive, your teen should also complete a Living Will. This document will express how he or she would like to handle end of life care. This can be a difficult conversation to initiate with an 18 year-old, but it is an essential one. You may even be surprised to learn that your young one has thought about his or her preferences before. We know, this can be a sensitive topic that includes important religious, philosophical, and ethical discussions. That’s why we recommend initiating the conversation now. Talk to your children about end of life, about their preferences and yours. Listening and learning about your child’s point of view can be an enlightening and bonding experience. If the worst should occur, it can also make a world of difference.

  • Don’t Forget about Financial Logistics

Of course, your child’s safety and health are the most important things to you. That’s why it is so essential to have these important medical authorizations in place before your child goes off to college. However, there are other matters that should be given attention as well. When your child leaves home, you may or may not still be involved in their financial life. Perhaps you share a joint bank account or maybe you choose to cover some of the college living expenses. Whatever the case may be, it is important to ensure that your child’s financial life is cared for in case he or she is unable to do so. If your child keeps a separate bank account, has a paying after-school job, owns a car, or maintains his/her own insurance, they will likely need a Durable Power of Attorney. This is a legal document that allows a named person to take on the financial responsibilities of the person who creates the POA. If your child is, for whatever reason, unable to take care of his or her own financial matters (because of illness, injury, or otherwise), a POA would allow you to step in and take control of those financial responsibilities.

  • Introduce Your New Adult to Adult Decision-Making 

As your young adult prepares to leave home, start having these important conversations. At Brian M. Douglas & Associates, we know that these conversations aren’t easy, but we’ve also seen their incredible importance if something happens. Want some help? Our experienced, compassionate, and patient attorneys are well-equipped to help guide you and your teen through these tough conversations. Make sure you take care of these matters before they leave home. The consequences for failing to plan can be tragic. Give our office a call to start the conversation at (770) 933-9009.