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Pomp and Circumstances: Managing the Legal Pitfalls of Young Adulthood

May and June are full of the signs of coming of age for young adults all across Pennsylvania.  Prom, College and High School Graduations all act as symbolic rituals that mark the passage of children or young adults to advanced stages of independence.  While these occasions see the bulk of the pomp, from a legal perspective, the circumstance of this passage occurs on much more individualized dates: a person’s “milestone” 18th and 21st birthdays. Most of the legal significance of a person’s milestone birthdays is well known.  Turning 18 brings the right to vote, to buy tobacco products and the requirement to register for the selective service. Turning 21 allows a person to buy alcohol and gamble in a number of states (including Pennsylvania). Unfortunately, many young adults and their parents, fail to recognize the significance of these milestone birthdays in other areas of the law. Furthermore, having been accustomed to the protection provided by their parents in this area, young adults often lack the maturity or knowledge to effectively navigate these matters that they find suddenly thrust upon them. This post will discuss these other areas of the law, how a parent of a young adult can address them with his or her child and how two basic estate planning documents (a durable general power of attorney and durable health care power of attorney) can provide a young adult with the parental support they may require as they mature.

Financial Independence

Turning 18 means a person can legally own property, be the sole owner of a bank account and enter into contracts.  Entering into contracts includes entering into contracts on credit.  Until 2009, 18 year-olds were subjected to countless solicitations from financial companies advertising credit cards, specifically on college campuses.  However, since the CARD Act of 2009, credit card issuers are not allowed to offer cards on a college campus.  Additionally, credit card companies cannot grant a new line of credit to anyone under the age of 21, without a co-signer, or proof that the individual has a means to pay off the balance (a part-time job, work study, or other).  Statutes have therefor prevented much of the predatory practices that previously targeted young adults and often permanently harmed their financial record.

Those protections, however, do not apply outside the credit card industry and end at age 21. The law allows young adults to make their own decisions regarding all aspects their finances.  A parent of a young adult who has made poor choices may quickly become frustrated by their inability to assist his or her child in resolving issues that may arise with the child’s creditors.

In such cases, a young adult will find that a durable general power of attorney naming his or her parent agent will allow his or her creditors to speak directly to a parent and therefore allow the parent to better assist the young adult to navigate and resolve any issues caused by poor or under informed decisions.

Medical Records

Turning 18 also grants a young adult with more control over their medical records.  Access to medical records are governed under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPPA.  Prior to turning 18, the parent or guardian of a minor child is often able to obtain information related to the child’s healthcare.  Upon turning 18 however, HIPPA prevents a doctor or medical care facility from disclosing information regarding a person’s care, without that person’s consent except in some specific circumstances.

The first of these circumstances is if disclosure is in the patient’s best interest.  This determination is made at the health care provider’s discretion.  The second would be to anyone involved in the payment for the patient’s care.  Therefore, if a young adult patient is still on the health insurance or disclosure of information is considered necessary for the care of the patient, health care providers may disclose information to a parent.  Disclosure under these circumstances is limited to the information that is necessary for the patient’s current care.

Out of concern of violating HIPPA, doctors can often be cautious when disclosing information to parents of young adults.  An effective way to relieve a doctor’s concern about disclosure is for a young adult to appoint one or more parent his or her personal representative.  For college students, campus health systems may accomplish this through the student health form.  However, for any medical care required outside of the campus setting, a durable health care power of attorney naming a parent as personal representative will help facilitate open disclosure between a doctor treating a young adult and the parent or guardian of that young adult.

Unfortunately, the milestone birthdays do not magically instill in young adults the experience, knowledge, and wisdom to handle many of the decisions that are thrust upon them when they reach legal adulthood.  While no legal document can ensure that a young adult does not make mistakes, both a durable general power of attorney and durable health care power of attorney, can permit a young adult easier access to the wisdom of his or her parent or guardian to help prevent mistakes and to deal with these mistakes as they mature.

This article was written by Charles H. Rieck IV, Esq.  Charles practices in the areas of Estate Planning and Administration and Business Law.  If you have any questions about this topic, please contact Charles at chr@blakingerthomas.com or 717-509-7275.

**This update is provided for informational purposes only and
should not be construed as legal advice or as creating an
attorney-client relationship where one does not already exist.**