Once children turn 18 years of age, under the eyes of the law, they are adults – meaning they are now empowered with legal rights to govern their own life.

Many 18-year-olds are off to college within the next few weeks.

Before they leave, here is some food for thought.

Most parents assume they will always have the ability to make decisions for their children, should the unexpected happen. However, once your child is 18, you no longer have the same authority to access his or her financial, educational or medical information.

This is why it is vital to plan for the unexpected and discuss the importance of having a simple estate plan.

  1. Healthcare Power of Attorney

Upon turning 18, under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), your child’s health records are now between the child and his or her health care provider.

HIPAA prohibits medical professionals from disclosing any medical information without prior authorization from the patient.

If your child attends college out-of-state and has a medical emergency in which he is unable to communicate his wishes to have you involved, you could face many obstacles in making decisions and before receiving critical information.

Doctors and medical professionals could refuse to speak with you and allow you to make medical decisions for your child.

At a time of crisis, you want to ensure you have the authority to make decisions on your child’s behalf. Having a Healthcare Power of Attorney can grant you the authority needed to step in should your child need you.

  1. Durable (Financial) Power of Attorney

Similar to medical information, once your child turns 18, her finances are also private.

A Durable Power of Attorney will grant you the ability to access your child’s financial assets and allow you to step in and pay her bills.

So, should your child have a crisis barring them from handling her affairs, or simply be traveling and unable to access accounts, the Durable Power of Attorney grants you the authority to step in and assist.

Additionally, a Durable Power of Attorney will have language allowing you to manage any and all of your child’s digital assets, should the need arise.

  1. Last Will and Testament

No one wants to think about having to draft a will for their child, but it is a necessary document once your child turns 18.

Any assets your child owns in his or her own name might have to be probated should they die. A will is a vehicle to dictate where your child’s assets are to be distributed.

While a will might be the least important of these three, these basic documents create a basic plan to insure you will not have to go to court to obtain legal authority to make time-sensitive medical or financial decisions for your child.

Don’t let the unexpected catch you off guard when it comes the welfare of your child. She will always be your baby, but under the law, she is an adult.

Rebekah N. Freeman is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center.