For IMMEDIATE Concerns ONLY Schedule a FREE 15 minute mini-consult. Schedule Now
  • Article
  • Estate Planning

Important Steps to Take When Your Child Turns 18

With high school graduations upon us and college on the horizon, you may already feel as though you are losing control of your child’s life.  Unfortunately, you may be right in more ways than one! Once your child reaches the age of 18, the state considers him/her to be an adult with the legal right to govern his or her own life.

Up until your child reaches 18, you are absolutely entitled to access your child’s medical records and to make decisions regarding the course of his/her treatment. Additionally, up until that age, your child’s financial affairs are your financial affairs. However, all of this changes once your child reaches the age of 18. Your now-adult child is legally entitled to his/her privacy, and you no longer have the same level of access to or authority over his/her financial, educational, and medical information. If all is well, this can be fine. However, it’s important to plan for the unexpected, especially as your child heads off to a new adventure at college. The first step in protecting your young adult should include the following:

  1. Health Care Proxy with HIPAA Release

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, once your child(ren) turns 18, his/her health records are now between he/she and his/her health care provider. The HIPAA laws prevent you from even getting medical updates in the event your child is unable to communicate his or her wishes to have you involved. Without a HIPAA release, you may have many obstacles before receiving critically needed information, including whether your adult child has even been admitted to a hospital or medical facility.

Additionally, should your child suffer a medical crisis resulting in the child’s inability to communicate for him or herself, doctors and other medical professionals may refuse to speak with you and allow you to make medical decisions for your child. You may be forced to hire an attorney to petition to have you appointed as your child’s legal guardian by a court. At this time of crisis, your primary concern is to ensure your child is taken care of and you do not need the additional burden of court proceedings and associated legal costs. A Durable Health Care Power of Attorney with a HIPAA release would enable your child to designate you or another trusted person to make medical decisions in the event your child is unable to convey his or her wishes.

  1. Durable Financial Power of Attorney

Like medical information, your 18-year-old child’s finances are also private.  If your child becomes incapacitated, without a Durable Financial Power of Attorney, you cannot access the child’s bank accounts or credit cards to ensure that bills are being paid. And if you need to access financial accounts in order to manage or resolve any problem, you may be forced to seek the court’s appointment as conservator of your child.

Absent a crisis, a power of attorney can also be helpful in issues that may arise when your child is away at college or traveling. For example, if your son is traveling and an issue comes up where he cannot access his accounts, a Durable Financial Power of Attorney would give you or another trusted person the authority to manage the issue. An alternative may be to encourage your child to consider a joint account with you.  However, this is rarely recommended because of the unintended consequences for taxes, financial aid applications, creditor issues, etc.

If you have a child (or grandchild) who is approaching adulthood and/or heading off to college, please contact the attorneys at Zacharia Brown about having the child execute these two crucial documents.

You may schedule an appointment by visiting our website at or by calling 724.942.6200.