Legal Documents Your 18-Year-Old Dependent Should Sign

legal documents for 18-year old dependents

My list of worry items as we careen towards college move-in is long, but having my son sign legal documents wasn’t even on my radar until a recent conversation with an attorney friend. As we discussed our impending empty nest, he said “You know about FERPA right?”. Of course I didn’t know about FERPA! It’s just one of the many things no one tells you about…until someone does.

When your child turns 18 they gain legal independence. Your rights as a parent to know about their finances, medical affairs and even grades ends. That would be fine, if they were in fact financially independent, but since most college-going teens aren’t, a number of thorny (sometime life-threatening) issues can arise if you aren’t proactive.

An attorney can help you prepare these documents, though all are available online (and some may be provided by your child’s school).

Medical – Legal Documents to Consider

Let’s say your kid is in a car accident and ends up in the hospital. Now that he or she is 18, the hospital cannot legally discuss his or her medical condition with you. What?! What if serious decisions need to be made? Exactly. You need to make sure your teen signs a HIPAA authorization form before moving out.


HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, prevents anyone not named in a signed release from receiving medical information about another adult. With a signed medical records release form, medical providers may share medical information with designated people (like you!). Your son or daughter can sign a full release or set limits on what information may be shared.

Most experts recommend a full blanket authorization since you may not know in advance the nature of the medical condition of your child. Be sure you keep a copy of the signed authorization, so you can show it to any doctor, hospital or other medical provider as needed.

II. Advanced Medical Directive

It’s hard to think about creating an advance care directive (or living will) with your child. Really, it’s an awful thing to think about. But if you don’t, the results could be way more awful than signing this legal document. Much as we parents hope and pray, accidents happen. Have your teen document what they want to happen in the event that life-saving medical treatment decisions have to be made. This is also your opportunity to have that conversation and be clear with each other in advance. Maybe even tell them what you want should something happen to you! This guide offers state-by-state forms since they can differ.

III. Medical Power of Attorney

This legal document gives you the ability to make decisions about your child’s healthcare. Sometimes called a healthcare power of attorney, it doesn’t become active unless your child is physically or medically incapable of making his or her own decisions. Each state has its own criteria, so be sure to check your state’s requirements.

College – Legal Documents to Consider


FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Who knew? By signing a FERPA release, your child gives you the right to see school records and grades. Without it, you have no rights (other than the ones you have in your head) to access any info about how your child is doing in school. Considering how much college costs, that’s not happening! Many schools provide a release form, but if yours doesn’t, download it and, once it’s signed, submit it to your teen’s college.

All of these legal documents just reinforce that while your teen is moving ever closer to freedom, they still rely on us for the really, big, important stuff.

Did we forget anything? Please tell us in the comments.

legal documents your college bound teen should sign