What Estate-Planning Documents Do You Need in Place When Your Child Turns 18?

Estate-Planning for Parents of Teens

Think estate-planning is only for the elderly? Everyone needs help at any stage of the game. In fact, you may think your job is pretty much done when your child turns 18 -- that your role has shifted from director to supporting actor. Your child goes off to college, and you think about how you could repurpose her bedroom in a few years when she is setting up her own place. For 18 years, you have been able to watch over her, call her doctors, talk to her teachers, and do your job as an involved parent. Then there is a problem with her financial aid, and you quickly discover that the university cannot answer your questions or let you help fix the problem. The good news is that there are estate documents that could give you the legal authority to step in when your college-age child needs your help, but the bad news is that you don’t have those documents. Not only that, you don’t even know what documents you actually need in place when your child turns 18.

Estate-Planning Tips for Parents of Teens

Money and School

A Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) – Education Records Release will empower you to take care of situations that involve information from his college. This should not be a general release, however – it should identify the school he is attending.

A Durable Financial Power of Attorney will make it possible for you to handle her banking and credit cards, pay her bills, and other financial matters. Before you assume this is “helicopter parenting,” realize the value of this document if your child is away on a study abroad program or experiences a catastrophic injury or illness. Her credit score could be destroyed if you are not allowed to step in and help her in these situations.

Medical Emergencies

If your child has a medical emergency while away at school you will have to get in the car or on a plane and go there to find out how badly your child is sick or hurt. Because of HIPAA regulations, medical information of adults (age 18 and above) is private. It does not matter that he is your child. The hospital is not allowed to reveal his private medical information to you. Unless you have the correct documents.

If your child had previously signed a HIPAA Authorization, the hospital could talk to you. HIPAA Authorizations can be very limited in scope, or they can authorize you to speak with his healthcare providers and read his medical records. While it might sound invasive, reading his chart will give you the most information and set your mind more at ease. You will also be able to tell them about your child’s medical history, drug allergies, and other vital information.

A HIPAA Authorization only allows you to get information; it does not let you make decisions for your child. If she is unable to make or communicate decisions for herself because of her injury or illness, you will have to get a court order appointing you as her guardian, so you can make those decisions until she can do so again. On the other hand, if she had signed a Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney naming you as the person to make medical decisions for her when she cannot, you could immediately step in and take care of your child.


While we hate the thought of our children dying before we do, tragically, it does happen sometimes. Most 18-year-olds do not have enough assets to need a will, but if your child owns real estate or is the beneficiary of a trust, a will can be a good idea.

Two Notes of Caution:

  1. Your child does not have the legal authority to sign these documents before the age of 18.
  2. Keep these documents where you can quickly locate them in a moment of crisis.

Estate Planning Help

Estate-planning issues can be complex, and many of us fail to properly address the numerous issues that can have an impact on our loved ones in the event of our incapacity or death, even at an early age. Estate-planning attorney Steve Thienel is dedicated to assisting his clients throughout the DC Metro area. Contact Thienel Law, LLC today and let me assist you with your estate planning or administration needs.