Family lawyers are at the centre of clients’ most personal conflicts. Negotiating a divorce, prenup or child custody and support can trigger deep fears, and client reactions can run the gamut from anger to despair.
Much of your role is focused on helping your family law clients navigate the short-term stresses of these legal arrangements. But engaging in a multi-year relationship means you’ll need to revisit their agreements once a child turns 18.
While it’s a date worth celebrating, clients also need reminding that their parental rights diminish once their child becomes a legal adult. Legally, your clients now need their child’s permission to access important medical, financial, and educational information and make decisions on their children’s behalf.
Health records, privacy, and confidentiality
Minors have the legal capacity to make their own decisions regarding their health records, independently of their parents, in a variety of situations. In general, if the patient is under the age of 14 years, the consent of the parent or guardian is necessary but once they reach the age, they have the same right to consent as adults.
A durable power of attorney for health care
The inability to access health records without permission is one thing. But a lack of medical decision-making power, even in emergencies, on behalf of adult children is next-level distressing. A medical or health care power of attorney solves this. Generally, the medical power of attorney is only active if your client’s adult children are physically or mentally incapable of making their own medical decisions.
It’s also important for young adults to document their wishes regarding life-extending medical treatment and organ donations. A living will protect the child’s rights while saving parents’ agonising decisions if a child is on life support.
A durable power of attorney for business
Your clients also need a power of attorney to handle their children’s business, including signing tax returns, renewing car registrations, and accessing bank accounts in case of incapacitation or international travel like studying abroad. If your clients are uncomfortable asking for blanket access, you can assure them their kids can restrict the types of transactions and can set a timeframe, including start/stop dates. If all parties are comfortable, establishing joint bank accounts with their children also helps clients stay looped in on their adult children’s finances.
School education release
Here’s the irony: Your clients pay for their children’s schooling, but they don’t automatically have the right to transcripts and other education records. While most public schools and universities notify parents of their need for permission, it doesn’t hurt to remind parents their children have the right to refuse.
New research has found that from a sample of more than 1,000 Australians, 70% had not yet prepared a Will. The survey also noted a 127% increase in traffic to Finder’s guide on how to create a Will since January 2020. In times of crisis, putting a plan in place for the worst-case scenario doesn’t seem unnecessary after all. The recent survey also revealed that 34% of respondents disclosed that they would be inclined to create a Will if they became ill or were diagnosed with a terminal illness. Support your clients in holding this tough conversation and get the documentation process started ASAP.
Parents of new adults also need to revisit their own legal documents, including wills, trusts, insurance policies, deeds, beneficiary designation forms, medical powers of attorney, and advance directives. Help them determine whether they’d like their newly adult child to become their power-of-attorney or executor in any or all possible scenarios. They’ll also need to consider any mandates or guidelines for trusts or bequests, such as age restrictions for distribution.
How Smokeball can help
When they turn 18, your clients’ children may choose to retain your services separately from their parents. Because all their personal details and records are already attached to their parents’ related Smokeball matter, it’s easy to make the transition.
If your family law clients and their children choose to complete any of the above forms, you’ll find them in Smokeball’s extensive library of automated forms and precedents. This ensures clients complete the most up-to-date versions, populated with details from their Smokeball matter.
Family law documents aren’t a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. That’s where Smokeball’s legal tasks and workflows come in. Set up automatic reminders for each client matter ahead of important dates like an 18th birthday, and it’ll show up as a to-do with plenty of time to take action.