“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” — Anne Frank
My daughter turns 18 tomorrow. On the first day of her senior year in high school. As her friends have turned 18 over the past months, they talk excitedly about being able to go to the casino, buy lottery tickets, get piercings and tattoos. They post photos on instragram with the hashtag #legal. What does it mean to turn 18 and be “legal”?
The Mom in me is experiencing a diverse range of emotions about this milestone. Awe when I look at the beautiful, talented, intelligent, funny and genuinely good young woman that my daughter has become. Amazement that she has become all of this, despite my shortcomings as a parent throughout her 18 years. Truthfully, a bit melancholy that she is one step closer to leaving home. Excitement when I think of the possibilities and adventures that she has before her. Mostly, though, I am filled with such a deep sense of love and gratitude, for the privilege of being my daughter’s Mom.
The Lawyer in me is looking at the milestone of my daughter’s 18th birthday in a different light. In the eyes of the law, my daughter becomes a legal adult tomorrow, with all the privileges and responsibilities that ensue. She can vote. She would be charged as an adult in criminal matters. She could enlist in the military. She can be summoned for jury duty. She can make her own health care decisions. She can enter into contracts.
Combining my Mom hat and Lawyer hat, I look at my daughter turning 18 in terms of what I am no longer able to do for her (without her permission/consent or without her signing legal documents that give me the power and ability to act on her behalf). I am no longer able to make health care decisions for her. I am no longer able to access or look at her medical records. I am no longer able to do her banking for her, or apply for accounts/benefits for her. I am no longer able to access her school records.
I am not ready to give up all these things.
Can a parent really have no legal rights, no ability to direct their child’s future when she is still living at home, a senior in high school and when the parent is paying for the basics of life and even for college? It’s true. I recall a heartbroken mother calling me a few years ago about her 19 year old “baby” being in the psych ward of a local hospital, having just tried to commit suicide, and not allowing mom to visit her or learn anything about her medical condition. There wasn’t anything that I could do for the caller. Her “baby” was an adult – free to make her own choices under the eyes of the law.
So what then can a parent do when their child turns 18, if the parent still wants the legal right to direct medical care, access medical records, assist with financial transactions, access school records? There are two documents in Minnesota that an adult can (and should) sign to give someone (a parent, a friend, another trusted individual) authority for these sorts of transactions. Those documents are a Health Care Directive and a Power of Attorney. Every adult should have them in place. Having them in place can avoid a court imposed Guardianship or Conservatorship (if a person becomes incapacitated and is unable to make their own good personal and financial decisions, the court appoints a substitute decision maker).
So on my daughter’s 18th birthday tomorrow, mixed in with her other gifts from me will be a Health Care Directive form and a Power of Attorney form, for her to consider. Can I make her sign them? No. She’s an adult and with that comes the right to make her own choices.
I’m hoping that I’ve given my daughter good advice and put her on the right path so that the choices that she does make are good ones.