Growing Pains: Considerations for Parents of Adult Children

Both for your benefit and the benefit of your children and extended family, having forthright discussions now can make difficult future choices easier.

As children head into adulthood, parents are faced with a whole new host of considerations as their children are faced with adult decisions and greater independence. Young adults have their own personal lives to learn to manage, both financially and otherwise, and they also have different roles to play in their parents’ financial and estate plans as they move through adulthood.

Newly Adult Children

For children first entering into adulthood, the biggest change can often be taking charge of what is legally now their responsibility after turning 18. While parents can and frequently do continue to help with managing anything from budgeting to tax filing to doctor’s appointments, they are no longer a default. They are no longer automatically granted access to information like grades, medical records or financial records once their child is legally an adult.

A good first step is to have a thoughtful discussion about ways your child can help themselves, even before their eighteenth birthday. This is an opportunity to talk openly and set expectations about budgeting, grades, and the kind of support you plan to provide as parents while your child transitions to self-sufficient adulthood. There is not a one size fits all answer, so it’s important to evaluate what things you and your child feel comfortable with them taking control of, and then addressing how you will stay involved in any other areas of their life. This may require paperwork or authorizations like transcript releases if you want to be guaranteed access to your child’s grades or HIPAA releases on file with your medical professionals or insurance provider.

As much as many young adults want to believe they’re invincible, the reality is that this is also the time to start planning for the possibility of injury, other medical emergencies or incapacity. Potentially difficult discussions about what kind of care your child may want and whom they want to empower to make decisions for them are best had in moments free of crisis. This allows your family to work through the decision-making process with clear heads and without the added load of a ticking clock.

Depending on your family’s situation and preferences, a Durable Power of Attorney and a Healthcare Power of Attorney are the most straight forward and useful tools available for advanced planning. A Durable Power of Attorney can allow whoever is named as attorney-in-fact to make appropriate financial decisions on someone’s behalf. A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a narrower type of Durable Power of Attorney that specifically appoints an individual to make healthcare decisions on someone’s behalf if they are unable to themselves. It is important to note that you can appoint multiple agents to cover different areas of life. If, for example, your child has a significant other with whom they live, they may want to assign them as attorney-in-fact for financial matters to allow access to things like bank accounts and household utility accounts. The same child may want their sister, who is an emergency medicine physician, to make any healthcare-related decisions for them if they are unable. There is no obligation for parents or other next-of-kin to be appointed as attorney-in-fact. Although this could be surprising, it may even be advisable for the child to consider other individuals to act on the child’s behalf for these appointments.

Adult Children’s Role in Their Parents’ Estate Plans

As your child becomes an adult, your own estate plans may begin to shift as well. While your own parents age and your children forge into the word on their own, there will likely come a time when you consider whether to involve your children more heavily in your own wealth and estate planning, as a trustee or attorney-in-fact. Much like with a child deciding whom they would want to make financial or healthcare decisions for them if they were unable to, this is a personal decision that depends heavily on the needs and temperaments of your family. This is also not a decision that is made once and never reconsidered. Recognizing that your child may not be ready to take on that responsibility does not mean deciding that they never will be.

Things to Consider

  • What role do you see your children having in your estate plans, now and in the future?
  • What level of involvement do you expect to have in your children's affairs in their early adulthood?
  • What role would you want to play in the life of your grandchildren, should something happen to their parents?

If you have multiple children, all of them may not have similar or equal roles in your planning. Because your children are all individuals at their own stages of life and with their own strengths and personalities, it is entirely appropriate to split up responsibilities between them based on who would be best suited for which role and to potentially decide that not all of your children need to be actively involved in these decisions. Regardless of what your specific decisions around your children’s roles are, having these difficult decisions early predictably lends itself to a better outcome.

Planning in times of calm also allows you to clearly express your wishes to your children before they are forced to make those difficult decisions and deal with the complexities of your illness or death. By making your wishes known explicitly, it removes some of the stress of being a decision-maker from your children and instead asks them simply to communicate those wishes to healthcare providers and other family members when the need arises. It also gives you a moment to remind them that ultimately you implicitly trust them to make the right decision when the occasion presents itself.

Adult Children Planning for Their Own Families

When your children reach the point of having their own spouses and children and their own assets to plan for, there is a new set of concerns that you may be called on to help guide them through.

Regardless of their exact family configuration, your children will want to have plans for their own assets as they begin to accumulate. This can take the form of a will or a revocable trust, depending on needs and preference, and like the other choices addressed earlier, it is best to make these decisions in a time of relative calm as much as possible. Regardless of your child’s inclination, it is also good to remember that you may not want to take on the responsibility of potentially making those difficult decisions for your child, and you should feel open to asking your child to choose a different family member or loved one if that is the case.

If you are a grandparent, there is also the question of guardianship should something happen to your grandchild’s parents. While many families may instinctively want your grandchildren to be cared for by their loving grandparents in the event of a tragedy, there can be value to maintaining the grandparent relationship. It may, for instance, be best for an aunt or uncle to assume guardianship, especially when the aunt or uncle is already raising their own children. The grandparent relationship can be a unique and special one and maintaining that while undergoing significant changes can be beneficial to the entire family.

In a broad sense, as your children come fully into their independent adult lives, there is an opportunity for them to take responsibilities from you where they are able. In many ways, the natural order of things is this gradual transition from children requiring everything from their parents, to parents and children co-existing as adults with shared responsibilities, to children taking on responsibilities for their parents so that they can enjoy their freedom and the fruits of a lifetime of hard work. While this may mean heavier subjects like end of life and estate planning, it can also be smaller things. Who is hosting Thanksgiving? Who is responsible for coordinating the family reunion? Who is the point person in the event of a family emergency? These are all questions to reconsider as you and your children age.

As you navigate these important decisions, your Wetherby team is here to offer guidance. Please reach out if you have any questions or would like help on how to begin these conversations with your loved ones.

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