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The Legalities of Parenting a Legal Adult

October 12, 2023

When your child reaches 18, you may not realize that not only do their legal rights change, but so do yours as the parent.  Your child is now considered a legal adult with the same rights and responsibilities as you. That means you can no longer obtain personal health, education, or other information without your child’s authorization. Of course, your child can voluntarily share information, but you cannot force a school or healthcare provider to give you those records. Importantly, you also no longer have the right to make decisions for your child independently. As a result, once you become the parent of a legal adult, it is a good idea to talk with them about taking some legal steps to enable you to assist them when needed. 

Planning for Medical/Health Care Problems Involving Your Child

Upon turning 18, your child should execute advanced directives, including a living will and health care proxy. A living will provides guidance on the type of treatment your child would want if they are permanently unconscious or incapacitated as in a permanent vegetative state. Your child should also designate a health care proxy (representative) to make medical decisions for them if they are incapable of doing so.

Finally, your child should sign HIPAA authorization forms which give medical providers/institutions permission to share health information and medical records with a designated person.

Obtaining Access to Your Child’s Educational Records

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) governs access to all educational records. Under this law, upon turning 18 or entering college, a student becomes the holder of the right to receive educational records and information, including disciplinary records, academic standing, and enrollment information. That means even if you are paying for college or other education, your child, not you, has the right to their educational records. 

Your child can voluntarily provide you with this information but is not legally obligated to give it to you. To obtain the records directly from the school, your child must provide written authorization to the school/institution allowing it to share the information.

Preparing Your Child for Making Adult Decisions

Talk to your child early and often about the transition to legal adulthood and what it means, including how it affects your access to information. Discuss what information you feel you need and why. Explain the purpose of certain documents, such as a health care proxy and living will.

While this conversation may feel awkward, even the most independent child may agree to assistance, even if only in an emergency. Therefore, you can frame your conversation as wanting to support your child and collaborate on decisions, not control their lives.

It is important to get these documents completed before your child goes to college or moves away from home. Planning in advance will make it much easier for you and your child if a problem does arise. 

If you need assistance with executing advance directives for your child, contact us for a consultation.


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