Written by Corinne Cantwell Heggie, Expert Contributor for Glenview Living.
When my sons have Glenbrook Swim Club practice, I walk the perimeter of Glenbrook South. I always walk the Auto's Courtyard, a proper noun for Titans in the know, where my gaze from the horizon habitually turns to the tree that stands in Auto's southeast corner.
On June 5, 1994, I met my parents and grandmother at the tree after graduation. Underneath this tree, iridescent green on this particular afternoon, I was photographed, diploma in hand, with my maternal grandmother. My grandmother wears a smile which is noteworthy because, while a striking lady, she was never one for the camera. I am smiling too, probably thinking about how clever and grown-up I was.
Today, the framed picture sits on my dresser and reminds me of two things: first, my grandmother. Second, that I was not nearly as clever as I thought.
Five days after graduation, I turned 18. Before my family celebrated, I signed two powers of attorney, one for healthcare, one for property. Regretfully, no photograph captured the signing. For had there been a photograph, I guarantee my face was one of disdain. Why would my parents ever think I would need their help to speak to doctors or handle money? Luckily, the former never happened. Naturally, the latter did, several times in the zip code, at U of I, and overseas.
An 18-year-old's medical and financial situation creates legal realities, especially for parents. First, the child is an adult in the eyes of the law and deemed capable to make medical and financial decisions alone. Second, the health care providers' input, the financial institutions' input, and state law will impact who can make your 18-year-old's decisions when she is unable to do so. Please know that Illinois includes parents as "surrogate" health care decision-makers, parents do not bat first in the surrogate lineup. This could result in medical providers being delayed in contacting a parent at a critical and often confusing time.
Avoid delay and confusion by telling your 18-year-old two things. First, the law permits her to make her own medical and financial decisions. Second, the law allows her to name a trusted adult to make these decisions for her if she cannot make them for herself. She needs two pieces of information and to know why these documents matter.
Health Care Power of Attorney
Your 18-year-old needs two pieces of information to sign a health care power of attorney: (1) your child's name and home address and (2) your child's trusted adult's name, home address and cell phone.
Your 18-year-old can name two trusted adults so there is a backup agent should the first-named agent be unavailable. If your child signs a health care power of attorney, make a digital copy of the fully executed document. Also, provide a copy to her doctor and her school if she is headed to college. In the event of the latter, it never hurts for your child's roommate to have a copy or picture of the document.
Property Power of Attorney
Your 18-year-old needs two pieces of information to sign a property power of attorney: (1) your child's name and home address and (2) your child's trusted adult's name, home address and cell phone.
Your 18-year-old can name two trusted adults so there is a backup agent should the first name agent be unavailable. Under Illinois law, the document can be tailored to address what the child owns in her own name or is authorized to use. Why does this matter? The document can give an agent authority to access electronic and digital devices the 18-year-old owns or uses, to access online banking or credit accounts, and to receive password assistance.
For both powers of attorney documents, it is important that your 18-year-old understand the adult she names to act will have a broad power to help her if she cannot make decisions for herself. This means that your 18-year-old should name an adult with whom she is comfortable being able to access and read her health care, financial, and digital information if the adult must act for her.
FERPA stands for the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. It is a law that protects student education records and applies to schools funded by U.S. Department of Education programs. FERPA defines "education records" broadly as records "related to a student" or "maintained by an education agency" or third party acting on the agency's behalf. FERPA requires an educational institution to get prior written consent before disclosing student education records.
Why is FERPA important? The rights that FERPA gives a parent for education records belong to the student on her 18th birthday. So, if your 18-year-old avoids sharing her grades with you, FERPA does not permit the college to give you access to the education records, even if you are a tuition-paying parent.
Schools often provide students with a FERPA release so the student can name an adult or adults to whom education records can be disclosed. Your student should check with her college during enrollment about its FERPA protocol and comply because the college's administrative personnel will be familiar with the college's FERPA procedures.
While your 18-year-old is busy working and possibly preparing for fall classes, consider having a conversation about these three documents. If the conversation is not warmly received, I invite you to persist because, eventually, you and your 18-year-old will be happy you did.
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