Recently, we had an 18th birthday in our family (not mine). This got me thinking about how turning 18 changes legal rights. The changes are substantial, more than I had realized. Here's a partial list of what I found.
Although Colorado has a statute saying someone is a minor until age 21, Colorado law also says that, at 18, a person can vote, purchase lottery tickets, buy cigarettes, be tried as an adult on a criminal charge, pawn property, marry, make health care decisions (including blood and organ donations), possess a handgun and enter into contracts. Oh, and drive a motor vehicle containing explosives. (However, you still must be 21 to buy alcohol and marijuana, enter a casino, rent a car and check into a hotel.)
Where these changes in legal status often hit the radar screen of parents is when a child heads off to college and they start thinking uncomfortable thoughts, such as: what can we do if our child runs into problems - medically, psychologically, academically, socially, financially? Will someone call us? Can we get to our child's records? Can we make decisions on our child's behalf?
These are legitimate concerns since, after age 18, parents, in fact, have no right to obtain medical, academic or financial records of their child. (Some parents find this hard to accept when they're shelling out thousands of dollars a year - or a month - to help their child receive an education.)
So what to do? Well, the best strategy involves taking some legal steps, engaging in some diplomacy - and being a little bit sneaky.
On the legal front, it makes sense to have a child sign a durable financial power of attorney and a durable medical power of attorney, wherein the parents are named as agents for their child. The financial power of attorney will allow parents to deal with contractual matters on their child's behalf. The medical power of attorney will allow them to make medical decisions for their child if their child can't make those decisions because of injury or illness.
Both powers of attorney will facilitate getting copies of records that might be beneficial. Another useful document along these lines is a HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) authorization form. This form will allow doctors to speak with parents about a child's medical condition.
Regarding diplomacy, it seems fair game for parents to remind a child where the money is coming from and that having access to grade reports, reports of disciplinary action and other academic information is not an unreasonable request. Colleges and universities devote a great deal of thought to parent/child legal issues, and enrollment procedures usually will include opportunities for students to consent to notify their parents of grades, disciplinary action and health issues.
As for the sneaky part, parents can set up a joint credit card account and a joint checking account with their child. Parents can pitch this as a matter of convenience - making it easier to advance money for the child's use. The real advantage, however, is that parents will receive monthly account statements and can view account activity on line. So they can - how shall we say this? - monitor their child's activities.
Jim Flynn is with the Colorado Springs firm of Flynn & Wright, LLC. Contact him at email@example.com or via his website, jtflynn.com.