Congratulations to you, the proud parent of a recent high school graduate. You can now spend reflective moments on the river working through your bittersweet senses of accomplishment, melancholy and good riddance. You have survived the sarcastic quips to seemingly benign questions and the dissertations as to why your own “pre-dot-com” teen experiences are about as relevant to your child as were those of the druids.

At some point in the near future, your child will be moving out of your house and into the world. And when that happens, you will likely forget those adolescent spats and remember those moments of perfection when you were allowed to love them, and they you. Our children, regardless of age, will always be our vulnerable creations whose well-being we have a primordial and heart-driven need to protect.

Nevertheless, when our child turns 18 we lose the legal authority to make decisions for them or even to find out basic information. Learning that you cannot see your college student’s grades without his or her permission can be mildly frustrating. But a medical emergency can take this frustration to a completely different level. Parents may have to go to court and ask for permission to obtain information about the adult child’s medical condition to make decisions about treatment, and have access to the adult child’s financial records and accounts.

The following legal documents allow anyone, including a young adult, to name another person to make medical and financial decisions if that someone is unable to make them for him- or herself. Think car wreck. The person(s) selected should be someone the young adult knows and trusts, and a candid discussion should occur now so they know what their wishes would be. These documents are not expensive, and everyone over the age of 18 should have them.

Parents should make an appointment with their attorney after each child’s 18th birthday to secure these documents. Having these documents in place does not mean anyone expects to use them, but it’s definitely the preference to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them.

1. In the event of incapacity

  • Durable Health Care Power of Attorney: Gives another person legal authority to make health care decisions – including life and death decisions – if you are unable to make them for yourself.
  • A Durable Financial Power of Attorney: Gives another person legal authority to manage your assets without court interference. (A “regular” power of attorney ends at incapacity; a “durable” power of attorney remains valid through incapacity.) Your attorney can write it in such a way that it does not go into effect until you become incapacitated.
  • HIPAA Authorization: Gives your doctors permission to share medical records and discuss your medical situation with others, including family members and other loved ones.

2. In the Event of Death

Most young adults do not have substantial assets, so a simple will is probably all that is needed at this time. It will let the young adult designate who should receive his/her assets and belongings in the event of death, including who will care for their pets. Otherwise, the Montana laws of intestacy will determine this, and often these laws poorly reflect what we may desire.

3. After the papers have been signed

A little housecleaning will probably be in order. It is important that the designated person knows where to find financial records and passwords if needed. I counsel my clients to create written letters of instructions that include a list of accounts and passwords – including computer passwords. Digitize and print the list and put it in a safe place; a hard copy is important in case the computer is lost or stolen. If an online back-up system such as Carbonite is used, it is imperative to include access to it. Don’t forget online accounts and social media. Additionally, in today’s virtual world, identity protection services such as Lifelock might prove a worthy investment. Finally, the young adult should update these documents as life changes.

4. What You Have To Look Forward To

An interesting phenomenon occurs as your child enters the adult world, you as their parent regain your intelligence. After a five- to 10-year period in which your advice was to them a punch line, riddled with cracks and antiquated reasoning, you might just re-enter a period of mutual respect. And if your adult child has matured enough, perhaps you may even be allowed the joy of parenting once again. If not, there is always the river.