Even if your 2020 graduating senior did not have the senior year he or she hoped, he or she is now an adult.  Many of these new adults will enter the workforce or take virtual classes or classes online for their first college experience.  But whether or not they are still “quarantining” with their parents or living in a dorm at university or an apartment in downtown Austin, it may come as a surprise to parents and children, I mean adults,  alike that a parent needs to have the legal authority to act for their 18-year-old adult.  If your 18-year-old is in a car wreck, owes money on a credit card, contracts with an apartment complex, or goes to the hospital with a high fever (COVID 19), what are your rights to make medical decisions or negotiate a contract or settle with his or her creditors?  Legally you, the parent, have NONE, unless your adult child grants you the authority to make decisions for them in the event of their incapacity, temporary or permanent.

So before you send your new adult off to college or off to their first job and apartment, you need to make sure they have the following legal documents:

  1. Medical Power of Attorney,
  2. HIPAA
  3. Financial Power of Attorney
  4. FERPA*
  5. Simple Will**

Medical Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions

A Medical Power of Attorney authorizes a parent to make medical and health care decisions on behalf of their young adult and to get a medical diagnosis.   If a young adult is ill, in an accident or otherwise becomes incapacitated, even for a short time,  a medical power of attorney is imperative.  Without this written authority to act a parent will need to go to court to be named legal guardian to act on his or her child’s behalf.

There are many horror stories about friends and colleagues who find this out the hard way.

For example, one young woman in her first year in college went to the school clinic for an allergy checkup, and it was discovered that she had a certain type of cancer.  When the parents called to talk to the doctor, they were not allowed to receive information or discuss the diagnosis with the treating physician regarding their child’s condition because she was over 18 and they were not legally appointed her medical power of attorney.  A lot of anxiety could have been avoided if the young woman had signed the medical power of attorney before leaving home.


HIPAA allows the medical decision-makers to access protected health information (PHI) and goes hand in hand with the Medical Power of Attorney.

Financial Power of Attorney

A Financial Power of Attorney is effective when a person is incapacitated,  unavailable and/or unable to make their own financial decisions.   Not only can you, as an agent under a financial power of attorney, make financial decisions during incapacity of your child, but this document also allows access financial and credit card accounts.  I have also used this POA to negotiate contracts and apartment leases when my child was out of the country on a study abroad program.

FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)

A FERPA Release is a document that allows access to a student’s educational records and financial information pertaining to school.  Sometimes universities will have their own proprietary form but it much more common now that they tell you to go and “see your attorney”.  We prepare these for all of our college bound students.  If your student gets a scholarship it is very likely that the sponsor will also want a FERPA release executed in the organizations favor so that they may monitor the student’s progress.  This Release is effective whether or not the student has capacity.

Simple Will

Often our parents will ask us to also prepare a simple Will.  If your adult passes away leaving a bank account, a trust or a vehicle or other assets, especially if the parents want the child’s siblings to have the assets – it is good to have addressed these issues before tragedy strikes.


Moral of the Story: Get your child (oops – young adult) to sign these documents so you don’t have to worry about it! Contact us to help. 

By: Erin Thrash