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Give your 18-year-old the gift of power

From the "Estates Made Easy" by Corinne Cantwell Heggie, as seen in the Daily Herald.

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When my sons practice with Glenbrook Swim Club, 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 always turns to the tree that stands in Auto's southeast corner.

On June 5, 1994, I met my parents and grandmother at this tree after graduation. Underneath this tree, iridescent green on that particular afternoon, I was photographed, diploma in hand, with my grandmother. My grandmother wears a smile that 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 we celebrated with dinner and cake, I signed two powers of attorney, one for health care, 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 my 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 for parents. First, the child is an adult in the eyes of the law, and thus deemed capable to make medical and financial decisions alone. Second, health care provers' input, financial institutions' input, and state law will impact who can make your 18-year-old's health care and financial decisions when she is unable to do so.

For instance, Illinois includes parents as "surrogate" health care decision-makers. However, parents do not bat first in the surrogate lineup, so medical providers may be delayed in contacting a parent at a critical and often confusing time.

Avoid delay and confusion by telling your child 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 medical and financial decisions for her if she cannot make them for herself.

Two pieces of information are needed to document your child's decision in 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 cellphone.

If your child signs a health care power of attorney, provide a copy to her university. Make sure your child has a digital copy of the document. It never hurts for your child to give her roommate a copy or picture of the document, too.

Similarly, for a property power of attorney, a child can name a trusted adult to make financial decisions about her money and property on her behalf if she cannot handle matters herself. For example, the trusted adult can deposit paychecks, sign a tax return, sign a lease, and obtain access to digital devices on behalf of an 18-year-old.

Two pieces of information are needed to document your child's decision in a property power of attorney: (1) your child's name and home address and (2) your child's trusted adult's name and home address.

It is important that your child understand the adult she names to act in either role will have a broad power to help her if she cannot make decisions for herself. This means that your child should identify an adult with whom she is comfortable.

While your student is busy placing Amazon orders and registering for classes, consider a discussion about powers of attorney too. A conversation with your child now will empower her and avoid unnecessary stress and confusion in the future if she encounters medical or financial speed bumps after her 18th birthday. Perhaps the conversation will not be received as a gift. Either way, you'll be happy you gave it.

Corinne Cantwell Heggie is a principal of the Wochner Law Firm LLC and safeguards individuals, families, and business owners from costly court battles, asset loss, and taxes with wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. Corinne is the immediate past President of the Women's Bar Association of Illinois and a board member of the North Suburban Bar Association. She and her family are parishioners at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and are active in scouting.

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