Under Colorado law, your child becomes a legal adult at age 18. Parents who still think of themselves as protectors and advisers, even after their children become legal adults, often do not consider the real-world implications of that milestone birthday. It is important, as parents, that you understand what legal documents your adult child should have in place before heading off to college or into the world.
Why is this important? Because when your child becomes an adult, you no longer have the legal right to make decisions for your child, unless your child gives you that right. That means that you will not have the right to speak on your child’s behalf and you will not be permitted to obtain official records or health records without your child’s consent.
In Colorado, there are two important documents for your adult child to complete: a General Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Durable Power of Attorney. A General Durable Power of Attorney can give you, as a parent, legal authority to take care of business matters on behalf of your child. This means that if your child is away at college, is studying abroad, is incapacitated, or is unavailable for any other reason, you can step in. A General Durable Power of Attorney enables you to sign tax returns, to access bank accounts, and to pay bills, among other things. As this document is broad in scope and all-encompassing, it is not advisable to give this type of authority to someone you do not trust implicitly.
A Medical Durable Power of Attorney can enable you to receive immunization records, health forms, and HIPAA-protected health information for your adult child. Also, though we would rather not think about it, it can enable you to make medical decisions for your adult child in the event of a medical emergency or end-of-life situation. To have the authority to talk to the doctors and hospital staff, you must have a legal document signed by your adult child giving you authority to do so. A Medical Durable Power of Attorney serves that purpose.
A next logical question, of course, is, “Does my adult child need a Will?” This depends. The default rule in Colorado is that if your adult child does not have a Will, is unmarried, and has no children, his or her estate assets will go to the parents. However, if your child wants estate assets to pass to persons other than the parents (such as siblings), a Will is advisable. By way of example, in blended families, a child may wish to leave assets to a stepparent or a sibling instead of a parent. Whether or not a Will is needed varies depending on one’s circumstances and should be discussed with legal counsel.