Essential Estate Planning Documents When Your Child Turns Eighteen


Congratulations, parents! Your child has turned eighteen. A whole new chapter of his or her life has started. Your child may be busy trying to pick out the perfect dorm décor and twin extra-long bed sheets or maybe your child is going straight to work to start a career. A million thoughts are racing through your head and keeping you up at night. Have you properly prepared her for the world? Does he know how to cook anything besides ramen and PB&J?  Does she know to separate the whites from the brights?  Can he balance his own checkbook?  (does he even have a checkbook?!?!)

Working with your grown up (but still your baby) child on creating estate planning documents is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However, turning eighteen really does change things for how the rest of the world, and more importantly how the law, now sees and treats your child. He or she is officially an adult! Crazy right? But what implications can this have on how you are able to care for your child?

Imagine you get a call in the middle of the night from your child’s roommate saying that your child has been taken to the hospital. The only thing the roommate can tell you is the name of the hospital and that your child was having difficulty breathing. Frantically, you are already grabbing your stuff to leave the house and calling the hospital to figure out what is going on. But to your complete frustration, the hospital is refusing to provide you any information. Probably the most immediate response from you would be is, “What? But I am the parent!”

Although parents never want to think of something happening to their child, emergencies do happen. It can be a little less intimidating if you have the essential documents in place that would allow you to assist and care for your child in the event of a medical emergency or a financial situation. There are three basic documents that every child who turns eighteen should get. The three documents include:

  1. HIPAA Waiver

  2. Health Care Power of Attorney

  3. Durable Power of Attorney

HIPAA Waiver

Once your child turns eighteen, say hello to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)! Due to these restrictive laws, doctors and hospitals are very hesitant to disclose medical information without being provided a HIPAA waiver. This document can be a stand-alone document or incorporated into a healthcare power of attorney form. The HIPAA waiver would allow designated individuals the ability to request, review, and receive information, verbal or written, from medical providers regarding your child’s physical or mental health.

There are circumstances in which the HIPAA Privacy Rule does permit medical providers to discuss information with a patient’s family; however, many of the exceptions involve a medical provider using his or her professional judgment in determining whether to release information. Nevertheless, when it is an emergency, you will not want to deal with any hesitations or any red tape in order to receive medical information regarding your child. Every second can feel like an eternity when you are waiting to find out if your child is ok. Make sure to skip any delays in receiving medical information by having a serious conversation with your child about having a HIPAA waiver created.

Health Care Power of Attorney

In conjunction with a HIPAA waiver, another document to consider is a health care power of attorney. The health care power of attorney allows your child to name an individual to make medical decisions or communicate his or her wishes in the event your child becomes unable to do so for himself or herself. Your child being incapacitated could be as serious as being in a coma or temporarily losing consciousness due to an accident.

Not only should you and your child discuss the benefits in having a health care power of attorney form created, but another extra step that is highly recommended is to send your healthcare power of attorney form to be registered with the North Carolina Secretary of State. The North Carolina Advance Health Care Directive Registry allows your child’s advance health care directive documents such as his or her health care power of attorney to be registered for a small fee. Once it is filed with the registry, a Registry Card will be sent back containing a file number and password that anyone with this information can use to access the document, such as medical providers.

Be sure that you and your child meet with an estate attorney to discuss all the documents needed to be put in place to ensure that your child has proper assistance in case of a medical emergency.

Durable Power of Attorney

While we strive as parents to make sure our children learn to be financially responsible, we are also used to paying bills for our children or at least having the ability at any time to step in and help them pay for something. Many children still need that financial support from their parents even after turning eighteen (18). They now have student loan bills, car payments, credit card payments, and more. They may take a semester to study abroad or have another situation in which they cannot handle their own financial affairs, and become unable to take care of a financial responsibility.

The best way to make sure you can still step in to assist your child with his or her financial affairs is to have an estate attorney create a durable power of attorney. Your child would have the ability to appoint an individual to act on his or her behalf for such matters like opening a financial account, handling tax matters, or signing a lease. It also includes a durable clause that allows the power of attorney to maintain his or her ability if your child becomes incapacitated. Your child can make the decision if he or she wants the durable power of attorney immediately available, or your child may prefer to have a “springing” durable power of attorney. The main difference is that the power of attorney would “spring into action” upon the occurrence of some future event like your child becoming incapacitated.

The best course of action is to talk to an estate attorney to see which option best fits your family’s needs.

Estate Planning Documents for your Family

You never stop being a parent no matter your child’s age. As a parent you will always want to protect and care for your child. When they were babies, you prepared for any situation by filling up that diaper bag with spare outfits, snacks, bottles, extra diapers, wipes, and more. You did that because you wanted to be prepared for any situation and wanted to make sure your child was cared for. Of course, no one was hoping to use that spare outfit because of a big or small disaster, but it was there just in case. Even though your baby is a little older now and no one wants their child to need these estate documents, it’s the grown up thing to do to make sure they are in place for a just in case situation.

Shepard Law PLLC can assist you and your family with creating estate planning documents tailored to your family’s specific needs. Call us at (704) 769-3100 or contact us online to start the process. Shepard Law PLLC has two locations, Charlotte/University and Concord, to better help you with what matters most: Home and Family.