When Can Parents Make Medical or Financial Decisions on Behalf of Children Over 18?

By Clinton Carlisle | September 10, 2018    

Most of us know when a child turns 18 in Colorado, they are legally an “adult.” Many parents don’t realize, however, that they no longer have automatic rights under state law to make legal decisions for their 18 year old child.  Parents should consider and discuss the following with their soon to be adult children:

Medical Decisions

When a child attains age 18, parents lose the absolute right to make medical decisions on their behalf, even when the child is unable to speak for themselves. Colorado law states that when a patient lacks adequate capacity to make decisions and has not appointed an agent, the medical provider must inform all “interested persons.”  These “interested persons” must then agree on who among them will make decisions for the patient. One potential problem is the definition of “interested persons” is extremely broad. And, no group member has automatic priority.  If all interested persons cannot come to unanimous agreement, a court may have to be involved. “Interested persons” includes a spouse, parent, sibling, adult children and grandchildren of the patient, as well as any “close friend,” which might include the patient’s girlfriend or boyfriend. Instead, adult children can make a “Medical Care Power of Attorney” and/or a “Living Will” to authorize a person(s) who will make medical decisions for them.  We all hope our children will never need a medical agent, but completing this document can prevent unexpected family discord at a traumatic time, and allow parents to make decisions for adult children at times when they need you most.

Financial Decisions

In addition to medical decisions, parents may also want to assist adult children with financial affairs such as bill and loan payments, managing banking and employee benefits, investments, and taxes. A financial “General Power of Attorney” can be created to authorize specific individual(s), such as parents, for these tasks. Financial powers of attorney can be very broad, or very limited to apply in a variety of unique situations. Unlike medical decisions, there is no concept of “interested persons” who have this power without a written power of attorney instrument, and a financial power of attorney may authorize the financial agent to act at any time, whether or not the adult child has capacity.

Whether your child is heading off to work, college, or other experiences, you can continue to provide medical and financial assistance if and as needed with one or more of these legal instruments. If you would like more information on this type of planning or any other estate services, please contact our office.


The information contained herein is not intended as legal, tax or investment advice.  For such advice, please contact our office or another competent estate planning attorney who can review your own special situation and prepare documents right for you.