For a parent, the day your child turns 18 can be an emotional one, and with good reason. It is as clear a sign as anything that they are growing up and moving into adulthood. Yet along with the emotional aspects of this change, you will also need to come to grips with the legal realities. When your child turns 18, your rights as a parent greatly diminish, including the right to know about their finances, medical condition, or school records.
While this makes sense, as an adult is expected to be granted a degree of privacy for their personal information, it also means that if your child were injured, you wouldn’t have the right to make medical decisions on their behalf. Even if they are ready to become an independent adult, there are some scenarios where they will likely want someone to be able to step in if they are unable to make decisions for themselves. To help with this, there are certain legal documents that you should fill out when your child turns 18.
There are two main types of documents to be aware of: authorization forms and life planning documents.
When your child turns 18, you lose access to many of the records that you originally had access to. To regain access to this information, your child will need to fill out specialized authorization forms. Two such documents are related to FERPA and HIPAA.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (or FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.1 Parents generally have free access to their child’s educational records, but when someone turns 18 years old or enters a postsecondary institution, the rights under FERPA transfer from the parents to the student. The students’ primary rights include:2
- The right to inspect and review their education record;
- The right to seek to amend their education record; and
- The right to have some control over the disclosure of information from education records.
When your child either turns 18 or begins attending any type of postsecondary institution, they will need to fill out a FERPA release form if you or anyone else to have access to their records.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (or HIPAA) is a federal law that led to the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without their consent or knowledge.3 However, due to these standards, parents lose access to much of their child’s medical information when they reach adulthood. This means that if they wind up in the hospital, you could be denied information about their condition or prognosis. By filling out a HIPAA authorization form, your child can grant you legal authorization to receive details of their medical condition.
Life & Estate Planning Documents
While 18 might seem early to start worrying about estate planning, the fact is that you never know when you might end up in a situation where you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Life comes at you fast and the last thing you want is for your child to end in a serious predicament and not be able to help. Preparing these important estate documents guarantees that either you or someone else that you trust can help.
A power of attorney (or POA) is a legal document that allows someone to designate an agent to make important legal and financial decisions on their behalf.4 It is typically used so that you have someone who can step in and pay your bills or handle other business or financial matters when you are unable to do so. With a standard POA, the authority it grants ends when you are incapable of making decisions for yourself. However, you can also establish a durable power of attorney (DPOA), which allows the document to remain in effect even if you are rendered physically or mentally incapacitated.5
A medical POA is an advanced healthcare directive that allows you to assign someone to make medical decisions to be made on your behalf.6 Since it often covers scenarios where you are physically or mentally incapable of making decisions for yourself, a medical POA is usually also considered a DPOA. A medical POA could be needed temporarily, such as in cases where you are under anesthesia and surgery complications arise, or to help navigate a long-term health crisis.7 You can also create a living will, which sets more specific instructions regarding which medical procedures and post-care routines you do or do not want to be performed.
Finally, a will is a legal document that spells out your wishes for who does and does not receive your various assets after your death.8 While it might seem a bit early to start planning for such things, it is important to clearly establish your wishes in the event of sudden and unforeseen circumstances. After all, not doing so can create tension and additional expenses for family members down the line, so it is best to plan ahead and avoid this possibility. The most common type of a will is a testamentary will (or last will and testament),9 though there are other types of wills tailored towards specific purposes.
Some of these documents cover difficult subjects and require serious discussion with your child. However, by taking the initiative to complete these important documents, you help to avoid far more uncomfortable situations in the future, respecting your child’s newfound rights while also ensuring that you are both prepared for whatever lies ahead.
If you have any questions about these or any other legal documents you will need for the future, talk to the professionals at CCSK Law! You can contact us at SUPPORT@CCSKLAW.COM or (219) 230-3600.
1. U.S. Department of Education. (2020, December 15). Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). U.S. Department of Education. https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html.
2. U.S. Department of Education.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, September 14). Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/publications/topic/hipaa.html.
4. Kagan, J. (2021, May 19). Power of Attorney: Allowing One Person to Act on Behalf of Another. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/powerofattorney.asp.
5. Irving, S. (2020, August 11). The Durable Power of Attorney: Health Care and Finances. NOLO. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/durable-power-of-attorney-health-finances-29579.html.
6. Rubin, H. (2021, April 30). Financial vs. Medical Power of Attorney: What’s the Difference? Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/managing-wealth/042216/medical-vs-financial-power-attorney-reasons-separate-them.asp.
7. Rubin, H.
8. Jarrell, M. (2021, May 19). Will vs. Trust: What’s the Difference? Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/051315/will-vs-trust-difference-between-two.asp.
9. Kagan, J. (2021, June 9). Testamentary Will. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/testamentary-will.asp.
About the author
Founder/Attorney, CCSK Law
I create customized solutions for families to address their planning needs.
I provide plans clients understand. Also, they make sure they know when to use them, and do so affordably. I love the opportunity to break through the legal jargon to clarify issues. We find success when we work through a person’s situation and put the law to work for them.