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Off to College, but Not Yet an Adult – Some Legal Considerations

Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C. posted in Estate Planning on Wednesday, March 1, 2017.

By Melissa G. Nolan

As you are packing your child’s car up with all of the clothes, books, groceries, etc. that he or she will need to survive the first year at college, the last thing on your mind is to stop by your attorney’s office on the way out of town. However, that may be one of the most important things you could do for and with your child at this time.

Assuming your child is now at least age 18, he or she is no longer a minor under Missouri law. That means you are no longer authorized to make medical decisions for him or her, or even have a right to speak to the doctor or a hospital to find out if your child is sick. Once an individual turns age 18, no one, not even a parent, has the right to make medical decisions for the individual, unless he or she executes the appropriate legal documents. If you assist your child with income tax returns or financial accounts, your ability to continue with that assistance may end when your child reaches age 18. If you had established custodial, or “UTMA” accounts at a bank for your child, upon turning age 21, he or she becomes the legal owner of that account, and you will no longer be authorized to access those funds. Given the potential physical distance while your child is away at school, it simply may not be possible for you to put a piece of paper, such as an income tax return, or a vehicle registration form, in front of your child and direct him or her to sign it.

So that you can continue to be able to be involved in your child’s medical care when the child is no longer a minor, and to allow you to deal with the day-to-day financial tasks that your child will face (but you know will not do without your assistance), your child should, at a minimum, sign a health care power of attorney as well as a durable power of attorney for finances, giving you the ability to handle these matters on the child’s behalf.

These documents are very simple, but they are essential to allow you to remain a part of your child’s “legal” affairs once the state declares he or she is no longer a minor, but your continued assistance and guidance is necessary. These documents ensure your child’s doctors will provide you with the information needed to understand what is going on with the child’s medical care, and will allow you to make any decisions that are required if your child becomes ill or is in an accident. These documents also allow you to take financial actions on behalf of your child, such as signing checks, registering vehicles, signing income tax returns, etc.

A visit with a lawyer before your child goes off to college may not be on your “to-do” list, but it is an important consideration and should be discussed with your child. A few simple legal documents could save both you and your child significant hassle and stress in the future. The estate planning attorneys at Paule, Camazine, and Blumenthal are available to further explain this process to both you and your children.


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Melissa G. Nolan

Melissa G. Nolan

St. Louis attorney Melissa Nolan's practice involves immigration law, as well as estate and tax planning. From helping individual immigrants to ensuring companies' I-9 forms are compliant through audits, Ms. Nolan is dedicated to making sure the laws are followed. Melissa’s estate and tax planning practice includes the preparation of estate planning documents such as wills, revocable trusts, powers of attorney, and health care declarations.