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3 Legal Documents Every Parent Needs When Their Child Turns 18

Learning about which documents you will need when your child turns 18 is critical, and an Alabama estate planning lawyer can assist.

You are right: from an emotional standpoint, your children will always be your babies. When you’re 90, and they’re in their sixties, babies they will remain — at least in your eyes. However, once your child turns 18, the law won’t see it that way. 

Once the clock strikes midnight on the day of their birth, you, your child’s parent, will no longer have decision-making power regarding your child’s health care and will be denied access to their medical records, no matter how much you yell and regardless of the dire straits they’re in. That is unless you have your child sign the legal documents every parent needs when their child turns 18. Here are the three legal documents you need.

Healthcare Proxy

A healthcare proxy allows your child to name someone, like you, to make decisions about their health care if they can’t. It’s a way for them to have their wishes respected, even if they can’t express them at the time. Should you not be available, your child can also name a successor decision-maker to fill this role. However, they should check with that person first to (a) alert them to their intention of naming them and (b) make sure they are up to and willing to take the job, should they ever be called upon.

In the event that there is an emergency and your child is without a healthcare proxy, sometimes called a durable medical power of attorney, a healthcare surrogate, durable power of attorney for health care, healthcare power of attorney, or healthcare agent, the decision-maker for your child would most likely become the doctor in charge of their care. This outcome can become problematic if you and the doctor disagree about the course of treatment for your child and the doctor is unwilling to defer to your judgment. Emergencies are not the time to put yourself in the position of depending on a judge to immediately give you the authority you need, making this document particularly important. 

Advance Care Directive/Living Will

Even at 18, your child could have definitive opinions about their end-of-life choices. Although having this discussion with your child can be uncomfortable or feel unnecessary, they might surprise you with their maturity and thoughtfulness.

Afterward, your child can memorialize their wishes in an advance care directive, which is sometimes also known as a living will. A living will becomes effective while a person is still alive but unable to convey their health care decisions. This legal document specifies the treatments they want or do not want to receive and under what circumstances. Depending on your Alabama family law attorney, an advance care directive may be included as part of the healthcare proxy. 

HIPAA Release/HIPAA Authorization

Medical records and other private health information are protected by HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Access to this information is restricted to only those with legal permission.

Once your child turns 18, you will no longer have the legal right to access your child’s medical records or obtain information about their condition from a hospital or medical provider. This can be grueling in an emergency, especially if your child is far away, such as at college. It won’t matter if your child is on your health insurance and you are footing the bill; hospitals and medical providers still won’t give you the information you are asking for, especially not over the phone.

If your child is hesitant to sign a HIPAA release because they are worried you will know too much about their private life, they can limit its scope. If they prefer, your child can specify that they wish to keep information about sex, drugs, mental health, and other sensitive matters private.

Durable Power of Attorney for Finances

A durable power of attorney grants the chosen agent, likely you, the authority to make various financial decisions on your child’s behalf. For example, it will allow you to pay for your child’s health care, negotiate the termination of their lease if need be, sign their tax returns, access their bank accounts, pay their bills, adjust their financial aid packages, or address any tuition issues on their behalf that may arise. 

Depending on how it’s drafted, a durable power of attorney can take effect upon signing or only if your child becomes incapacitated. Your child can decide its scope as they can with the HIPAA release/authorization. 

Getting your teen to do unpleasant tasks, whether it involves picking up their dirty socks or signing important legal documents, can be challenging. With regard to the latter, the following tips can help.

  • Choose a time when your child is relaxed and not in a rush to discuss why these documents are so important for them and their well-being.
  • Assure your child that other parents are advising their children to sign these documents as they turn 18, not only you. You are not the overbearing parent, at least not because of this ask. 
  • Hire an Alabama family law attorney to prepare your documents so they are drafted and executed correctly. This way, you won’t have to have your child sign them more than once, further irritating your teen. 

Finding an Alabama Family Law Attorney to Prepare the Three Documents Every Parent Needs Their 18-Year-Old to Sign

No parent wants to think about their child gravely injured or explain to their 18-year-old, who is just beginning their adult life, that this could be a possibility. However, being prepared puts you in a better position to help them.

At Charlotte Christian Law, our team of estate planning attorneys is here to support you and your family. With offices located in Huntsville and Birmingham, we can meet with you at a place and time that is convenient for you. Call us today to schedule a consultation.  

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