Your 18-year-old son just left for college and you are enjoying the empty nest knowing that you have fully prepared him for adulthood. You even helped him set up a bank account in his own name so he can pay his own bills (even if you are still putting money into the account for a few years). There is nothing left to do except arrange for the turkey dinner when he comes home for Thanksgiving. Not so.

Since he is 18 years old, you cannot access his bank account, obtain his college academic records, or discuss his health with a doctor or hospital if he becomes ill unless he has signed the appropriate documents to allow you to do so. While you don’t want to think about some tragic accident that places him in a hospital, you need to be prepared before he goes to college.

As soon as your child turns 18 he should at a minimum sign a business durable power of attorney and health care surrogate document. The power of attorney should name you (and your spouse in an either/or capacity) as agent to handle financial transactions, change mailing addresses, access academic records and take care of other business matters in the event your child cannot do so. Even if you are jointly named on the bank account, if your child obtains a credit card in his name alone, you need the power of attorney to access it (and cancel it if necessary). Without the health care surrogate document authorizing you to obtain medical records and make health care decisions for your child if he becomes ill, you have no authority to access records and make those critical decisions.

If your child desires to address end of life issues, he may want to sign an advance directive living will where he determines what he wants in the worst case scenario if he is diagnosed with a terminal condition. A Will disposing of any separate property may also be a good idea, although if your child is a Florida resident, unmarried and has not signed a Will, Florida law provides that his property will pass to you as parents under the probate process.

Without the Power of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate, and Advance Directive documents, what is the alternative if your son becomes incapacitated due to an illness or accident? – Guardianship and other
court proceedings which consume time and money.

If your adult child has specific questions on these issues and whether any of these documents should be considered, he or she may call any lawyer in our estate planning or tax group to schedule an appointment and we will be pleased to assist.

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