The Legal Documents You Need When Your Child Turns 18

Turning 18 changes everything – except the fact that many of our teens are still largely dependent on us – so what can we do to ensure our continued ability to look out for them?

It seems morbid to prepare health care documents for healthy young people, but accidents and illnesses happen to young adults, and you want to be the one making decisions for your kids once they leave home?

doctor in ER
There are legal forms parents need to prepare before teens leave for college.

There are three forms that facilitate the involvement of a parent (or whomever is designated) in an emergency or other situation:

Forms Needed in a Medical Emergency

1. Healthcare Proxy (also referred to as a healthcare agent or medical power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, or durable power of attorney for health care)

This authorizes someone to make medical decisions on your behalf and it gives your authorized agent access to your medical records and the ability to converse with your medical health care providers. By signing a healthcare proxy, you are appointing someone to act on your behalf in making medical decisions in case you cannot make those decisions for yourself.

Each state has different laws that govern the execution of  a healthcare proxy (state laws differ on whether a medical proxy has to be notarized or merely witnessed). and, therefore the legal form you sign will be specific to the state where it will be used. In many states, the HIPAA authorization is rolled into the standard medical proxy form. In addition, a healthcare proxy can include a Living Will or you can execute a separate document stating your wishes for end-of-life medical treatment.

2. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) authorization (also called a HIPAA release)

This is a more narrow document in that it permits healthcare providers to disclose your health information to anyone you specify. A stand-alone HIPAA authorization (meaning that it is not incorporated into a broader legal document like a healthcare proxy) does not have to be notarized or witnessed.

This document alone will often suffice for you to get information from the health care institution treating your child. In a HIPAA authorization a young adult can stipulate that they don’t want to disclose information about sex, drugs, mental health, or other details that they prefer to keep private. As with the broader healthcare proxy a HIPAA release can also include a Living Will.

3. Durable Power of Attorney (Durable POA)

This enables a designated agent (in this case a parent) to make financial decisions on the student’s behalf. The POA can provide that power vests in you immediately after signing the document or that it vests only if your child becomes incapacitated.

The POA enables the designated agent to, among other things, sign tax returns, access bank accounts, pay bills, make changes to your child’s financial aid package or to figure out tuition problems. Durable POA forms vary by state. In some states the medical POA (or as we called it the healthcare proxy) can be included in the Durable POA.

Each state has its own variations on these forms and the way they can be combined so you MUST consult your individual state’s laws or speak to a local attorney who practices in this field.

You can continue to hope that you will never need these forms, but it’s always a better idea to be prepared in case you do.

What Else Changes When Your Teen Turns 18?

When your teen reaches the age of 18, even though you may still think of them as children, under the law they have now achieved adult status. That status allows them to vote, serve in the military, serve on a jury, sign a contract and get married without your consent. Although they still can’t do certain things, like drink alcohol or rent cars, their legal status is decidedly different than it was at 17.

  1. All males with US citizenship (with very few exceptions) must register for the selective service upon reaching the age of 18.
  2. Although not required, this is a great time for your kids to register to vote.
  3. When your children turn 18, you no longer automatically have the authority to make healthcare decisions for them. And this is true even if they are still covered by your health insurance and you are paying the bill. This means that if your child has an accident or illness and is temporarily disabled, you may need court approval to act on their behalf or even to be informed of their medical status.
  4. Despite the fact that you are paying for their education, the FERPA law says you no longer have access to your child’s grades once they turn 18. That’s right, you can call the registrar and ask to see your 18-year-old’s transcript and they will not share it with you even though you’re the one signing the tuition checks.
  5. You can no longer manage money for your children once they turn 18.


For More Information:

Will You Be Able to Help Your College Aged Child in a Medical Emergency? (Consumer Reports)

Documents You Need When a Child Turns 18

You’ve Turned 18, Now What? Important Legal Documents Every Young Adult Should Have

Happy 18th Birthday! Your College-Aged Child is an Adult. Now What?








About Helene Wingens

Helene Wingens has always been passionate about painting pictures with words. She graduated from Brandeis University with a degree in psychology and three years later from Boston University School of Law with a Juris Doctor. In a year long clerkship for an appellate judge Helene honed her writing skills by drafting weekly appellate memoranda. She practiced law until she practically perfected it and after taking a brief twenty year hiatus to raise her three children she began writing a personal blog Her essays have been published in: Scary Mommy, Kveller, The Forward, and Grown and Flown where she is Managing Editor. You can visit Helene's website here

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