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  • Laura L. Van Tassel, Esq.

6 Documents That Will Protect Your Children After They Turn 18.

A lot of things change when a child turns 18, yet the instinct to protect our children never ends. There are so many ways that we as parents help our children as they navigate their future, but there are some issues most parents are not aware of.

I think about my own daughter. She had a great job out of college with benefits, she needed to name a beneficiary (thankfully never needed) but it is important to take these issues into consideration as they head off in life.

I have found the biggest surprise to a lot of parents is when they find out that once children turn 18, parents no longer have the authority to make legal, medical, or financial decisions for their children.

I know it’s never easy to contemplate, especially for a parent, but bad things do happen. As they navigate young adulthood, your children will still need your advice and assistance—but without certain documents, you may not legally be able to give it to them. Parents who wish to protect their adult children as they make their way in the world should consider securing at least the following documents:

Healthcare Documents

When your children turn 18, you no longer automatically have the authority to make healthcare decisions for them. And this is true even if they are still covered by your health insurance and you are paying the bill. This means that if your child has an accident or illness and is temporarily disabled, you may need court approval to act on their behalf or even to be informed of their medical status.

1. Healthcare Proxy

This authorizes someone to make medical decisions on their behalf and it gives their authorized agent access to their medical records and the ability to converse with their medical health care providers. By signing a healthcare proxy, they are appointing someone to act on their behalf in making medical decisions in case they cannot make those decisions for themselves.

2. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) authorization (also called a HIPAA release)

This is a more narrow document in that it permits healthcare providers to disclose your health information to anyone you specify. A stand-alone HIPAA authorization (meaning that it is not incorporated into a broader legal document like a healthcare proxy) does not have to be notarized or witnessed.

This document alone will often suffice for you to get information from the health care institution treating your child. In a HIPAA authorization, a young adult can stipulate that they don’t want to disclose information about sex, drugs, mental health, or other details that they prefer to keep private. As with the broader healthcare proxy, a HIPAA release can also include a Living Will.

Financial Documents

Of course, to you, your child will always be your baby. But when they turn 18, they are now an adult in the eyes of the law and has the right to control his or her own finances. Talk with your child about how money should be managed now that he or she is an adult, and talk about how things will work if he or she becomes incapacitated and can't manage his or her own finances. This can help avoid problems down the line and can help your child understand why you need the power of attorney. Your child has to voluntarily agree to give you this power; you can't just do it for him or her, so you want to be on the same page.

3. Durable Power of Attorney (Durable POA)

Children can grant their parents a durable power of attorney to handle business for them in the event they become incapacitated if they are simply out of the country (say, studying abroad), or if, for some other reason, they need you to assist with their affairs. A durable power of attorney allows you to access bank accounts, sign tax returns, renew car registration, and perform other transactions.

Your child can restrict the types of transactions you can perform or grant full access and also grant the power of attorney with a timeline including a starting and stop date.

This enables a designated agent (or parent) to make financial decisions on the child’s behalf. The POA can provide that power vests in you immediately after signing the document or that it vests only if your child becomes incapacitated.

4. Living Will

A living will, sometimes called an advance directive, specifies personal choices about life-extending medical treatment in the event that you cannot communicate your wishes yourself. A living will is very different from a last will and testament, which clarifies how you want your property and assets distributed after you pass away. By contrast, a living will, as the name implies, clarifies what you want to happen while you are still alive.

Sometimes this is combined with the medical power of attorney, dependent on the jurisdiction. It expresses their wishes regarding end-of-life decisions.

5. A Simple Will

A Last Will and Testament may not be necessary for all young adults but is essential for those who stand to inherit a good deal of assets. If your child passes away without a Will, their assets will be probated and passed down the family tree. If your family has a high net worth, your child may benefit from a trust to protect certain assets.

6. Beneficiaries

It may be easy to dismiss the need for an estate plan as a young adult. However, putting even a simple plan in place can help minimize potential issues down the road. Always consult with an experienced estate planner to make sure your intentions are correctly captured.

Proper estate planning involves updating beneficiary forms on bank accounts, retirement accounts, and even stock accounts.

As I mentioned earlier when my daughter got her first job out of college with benefits she named a beneficiary. Has your young adult named parents? siblings? someone else? Make sure to ask.

This is an excellent opportunity to engage in worthy dialogue about goals, concerns, and expectations with your children.

If you fear your child might think you are being a helicopter parent, then ask a lawyer to prepare a “welcome to you adult life” type of package, and meet briefly with you and your child, and explain the significance of the documents, I truly believe these important documents will to give both you a great source of relief.


I get it, legal documents of any kind can be complicated and nobody likes to think about what could happen to their children once they are out of sight, but failing to prepare for the worst will just make a terrible situation harder. The benefit of working with an attorney to put these forms in place is that we can explain why the forms are necessary, ensure that your child makes informed choices, and fully customize a plan to their specific needs.

If you live in New Jersey and need some advice please feel free to call me here at Van Tassel Law | (201) 664-8566.


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