Guest Column

Give your graduate the gift of legal documents

June 7, 2019
Print
Text Size:
A A

As we head into graduation season, many families will start making plans for their young adult children to leave home for college, travel or to begin a new job.

Your lives will be different now in many ways, but one difference is particularly important for parents: Once your child turns 18, you no longer have legal access to medical, financial and educational information about your child, and you can no longer make medical or financial decisions for your child, even if he or she becomes injured or incapacitated.

How can you provide the care and support your child needs when you cannot access their college tuition bills or make medical decisions if they land in the hospital? These steps will help prepare both you and your children for their foray into the adult world — and make the best graduation present you can give them.

  • ICE contact: Make sure a parent is listed as an ICE, or ‘in case of emergency,” contact on your child’s cell phone. Critical medical information such as allergies and medical conditions also can be stored here. ICE contacts can be accessed by medical personnel without the password to unlock the phone.

  • Health care proxy/medical power of attorney: You cannot make health care decisions for a child over 18, even if you are providing health insurance. Have your child sign a proxy/POA form designating who has the primary authority to make health decisions if he/she is unable to do so. This is especially important if parents are divorced.

  • Durable power of attorney: Having your child sign a durable power of attorney allows you to handle financial matters, such as signing tax returns, if your child studies abroad or becomes incapacitated.

  • HIPAA authorization: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act restricts medical providers from disclosing your adult child’s medical information to you. Your child should sign a HIPAA form with each provider, giving you access to his/her medical information. This is especially important in the case of a child with ongoing medical or mental health issues.

  • FERPA waivers: Even if you are paying for your child’s college attendance, you will not have access to your child’s educational records, including grades and tuition bills due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Have your child complete the school’s paper or electronic FERPA waiver form so you can access this information.

  • Will and trust instruments: If your child has sizable assets of his/her own and no descendants, he/she may need to create a will or revocable trust in order to protect the size of your taxable estate and allow someone to manage these assets while he/she is at school or traveling abroad.


Other considerations for adult children:

  • Medical records: Make sure your child has access to his/her medical history, including medications, allergies, immunizations. Ideally, these should be consolidated into a document your child can store on the cloud or on a mobile phone.

  • Insurance: Check to see how your medical, homeowner’s and auto insurance handles coverage for a child residing in another area or state. If your child will live in a leased home/apartment, he/she will need a renter’s insurance policy.

  • Proof of identity: Make sure your child can easily access the documents needed to get an internship or job — either a valid passport or a birth certificate and Social Security card.

  • Taxes: Your child may need assistance filing tax returns and making tax-efficient decisions.

  • Bank accounts/credit cards: Your child may want to open an account at a bank in the city or state where he/she will attend school.

  • Registration: Your child should register to vote, and sons must register with Selective Service.  

  • Wealth information: Now is the time to let your children know about any annual gifts you have been making, any trusts for which they are a beneficiary and any other wealth information.


Watching your children transition into more adult roles is exciting but often a little worrying, as well.

As you launch your children into their adult lives, attorneys can help you create some peace of mind by providing the legal documents you and your children need to be prepared.

Beth L. O'Laughlin is an attorney at Warner Norcross + Judd LLP who concentrates her practice in the areas of trust and estate planning, small and family business succession planning, and general business law. She can be reached at bolaughlin@wnj.com.

Editor's Picks

Comments powered by Disqus