Minors and Their Rights
In Alberta, a minor is a person under the age of eighteen. At eighteen, which is called the “age of majority,” a person gets all of the legal rights and responsibilities of an adult. These include: the right to vote, the right to hold property, the right to drink alcohol, and the right to make decisions and assume obligations without a parent’s consent. These decisions could involve marriage, medical and psychiatric treatment and signing contracts. The legal rights and obligations of minors are limited and their parents or guardians are responsible for their care and control until they reach the age of eighteen.
Generally, minors cannot be legally bound by any contract they enter into unless it is a contract for the necessities of life. The necessities of life have been defined as food, clothing, shelter and, to a certain extent, education. The extent or extravagance that is allowed for these necessities will depend on the minor’s circumstances. For example, a house has been found to be a necessity for a minor with a spouse and child. However, minors cannot always use their age as an excuse to escape responsibility for contracts that they have made. Alberta courts have found that minors may be bound by contracts from which they benefited in some way whether the object is a necessity or not (e.g., the purchase of a sports car). Therefore it is best for minors to assume that they will be bound by any contract which they make.
A minor cannot sue or bring a legal action against a party in a court of law in their own name but must have an adult sue on their behalf. There is an exception to this rule. A minor who is entitled to be supported by a parent and/or guardian may make application to the court to obtain or collect maintenance and it is not necessary for the application to be started in an adult’s name.
If a minor damages property or injures another person, the parents may be liable for the damage if it resulted from improper supervision of the minor.
Mature teenagers may be considered old enough to make their own decisions about medical treatment such as birth control. The doctor must feel that the child understands the nature of the treatment and can give informed consent. If the child is sixteen years of age or older, there generally is no problem.
If a minor inherits or receives property as a prize or gift, an adult who is appointed as trustee has the right to sell or transfer that property for the minor’s benefit until the minor reaches the age of eighteen. There is an exception to this rule. A court may allow a seventeen-year-old who is about to marry to sell or transfer any land that he or she has.
If you wish to leave property to a minor in a will, you should name someone as trustee of the property and executor of your estate. Unless your will states that the trustee may use or allow the guardian to use the minor’s property in whatever way is necessary for the minor’s benefit, the inheritance will be tied up until the minor reaches the age of eighteen or the age specified in your will. Where there is no trustee appointed and no one asks to be appointed, a government official called the Public Trustee will become trustee of the minor’s estate. The Public Trustee is entitled to be paid for managing the minor’s estate.