The Legal Documents You Need When Your Child Turns 18

It is a joyful moment in a parent’s life when their child turns 18; they graduate high school, go off to college, and make plans for their future.  It is also a time to consider the legal aspects of parenting an adult child.

What happens when your child turns 18?

  • Your rights as a parent diminish.  When your child turns 18, by law they are considered an adult. 
  • You will not be allowed to access information regarding their finances, medical health, or education. 
  • Individuals over 18 must provide written permission for anyone to access their records, even if that person is their parent.

What type of legal documents should your child have?

You should obtain a healthcare directive, HIPPA authorization, durable power of attorney, and a FERPA release for your 18-year children, so you can make decisions on their behalf in case of an emergency or other situation. 

  • Healthcare Directive (Living Will): A health care directive names individuals to make medical decisions and alerts medical professionals and your family regarding which medical treatments you want to receive or refuse in the case that you lack incapacity due to mental, physical, or end of life conditions.  This document does not go into effect unless you meet specific medical criteria and are unable to make such decisions.
  • HIPAA Authorization: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects the release of medical information to unauthorized individuals.  To access your children’s medical records after they turn 18, a signed release is required.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: A durable power of attorney allows you to access bank accounts, sign tax returns, renew car registrations, access tuition and housing accounts, and perform other financial transactions for your over-18 children. It is essential if your children become incapacitated, are traveling, or for any other reasons they are unable to handle their financial affairs.
  • FERPA Release: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that students over the age of 18 sign a release to give their parents access to their grades, transcripts, and other school information.

What are the consequences of not having these documents?

If you do not have these documents in place once your children turn 18, you may be unable to assist them in making financial and healthcare decisions.  What if your child gets in a car accident or becomes terminally ill?  Without a healthcare directive, or HIPPA authorization, you may not have access to their current medical condition or be able to make decisions regarding their medical care.  Without a durable power of attorney or FERPA release, you may not be able to access your child’s grades at school, complete their financial aid application, look up the cost of their tuition, or access their bank account to pay bills.


Being prepared and obtaining the appropriate legal documents for your over-18 children prevents unnecessary stress and frustration.  Please contact our office if you want to learn more about the legal aspects of parenting adult children.