A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

George Zamary: Prepare legally for when your ‘child’ goes off to college; at 18, you have an adult

In the eyes of the law, when your “child” goes off to college at 18, they ARE an adult, is your family prepared legally if something were to happen?
It is that time of year when kids are leaving for college. I remember the excitement of being able to leave home and have “freedom” to make my own decisions. After the first year of college, you return home with a greater sense of independence and maturity.  Yes, there is even a sense of “it could never happen to me.”   From my perspective it isn’t that something might happen to you, but more it could. 
Two quick examples:
On my wife’s first night in college, she was leaving a restaurant and the vehicle she was riding in was hit by a drunk driver. 
Another client was driving to visit friends out of town and came upon an accident scene where traffic had slowed. A tow truck bound for the accident plowed into the back of the vehicle resulting in her being hospitalized and placed in a medically induced coma.
Both events are true and demonstrate how the unexpected can happen.  Because of these two stories, I tell clients that a great graduation gift would be to get an estate plan for a child. Most parents don’t take this advice and thankfully, most haven’t needed it. Unfortunately, I know it is a matter of time until that won’t be the case. 

George Zamary

Upon turning 18 years old a whole new world of responsibility opens.  Not only is he or she now able to vote and join the military but they can also execute legal documents without a parent’s consent. Also, the child’s right to privacy prohibit a parent’s right to access his or her medical information or deal with any financial issues that might arise in the event of a crisis. It isn’t so much about going to college, but when your child turns 18 years old, he or she is now a legal adult (although in your mind still your child). 
A simple estate plan is likely all that is needed for any 18-year old.  This would involve a will and a few simple powers of attorney. An attorney should be able to prepare these quickly and for a set price. 
Will. A will allows your child to select who will oversee his or her estate.  Odds are they have little by way of assets to pass on, but not setting forth a few basic terms can lead to confusion and ensures his or her wishes are followed by family and a court. 
Healthcare Power of Attorney.  Here, your child can appoint someone to make medical decisions in the event he or she is unable to communicate decisions related to medical care.  This is often one of the parents but it can also be a friend or sibling.  A properly executed healthcare power of attorney allows for a plan to be in place in the event of an unexpected medical issue. 
Financial Power of Attorney.  Again, this is useful in the event your child is unable to make decisions regarding the management of his or her finances.  Although the personal assets may be minimal, this is still a helpful document to have in place.  In the two situations state above, what happens if you can’t write the check to pay bills?  Having a financial power of attorney allows the person designated to make sure your son or daughter don’t miss payments and negatively impact his or her credit score. 
Having these documents in place provide an additional layer of security in knowing that your child’s needs are protected in the event of an unexpected emergency.  As Benjamin Franklin notably state, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 
George Zamary is the founder of the Zamary Law Firm, LLC.  Zamary Law Firm practices in the areas of estate planning, corporate and employment law, civil litigation and small business representation in both Ohio and Kentucky.  Visit www.zamarylaw.com  or call 513.448.4150 for more information.

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