Shot of a young man going for a walk along the beach with his father

The law recognizes the parent-adult child relationship in ways that might not be obvious.

We’ll use Michael and his father as an example. Michael celebrated his 18th birthday by packing his bags and walking away from the family home. He left behind his mother and father. 

For reasons unexplained, Michael became secretive and paranoid. Days turned into decades. He never married or had children. When asked, he said he was an orphan. He refused to sign any estate planning documents because, he said, there was no one he wanted to name as his agent. He could not decide how he should leave his considerable wealth, so he never made a will.   

Then Michael became ill. The social worker at the hospital did some digging and found that Michael’s mother was deceased, but Michael’s father was alive and in good shape. She contacted the father who, although he had been estranged from Michael for 40 years, agreed to help.

What happened next would have appalled Michael if he had been conscious. Or not – maybe he would have been secretly relieved that the law gave him a built-in safety net.

How Next of Kin Becomes the Guardian of an Estate

His father came to the hospital. As Michael’s next of kin, he started making decisions about his care. The law provides that a parent is next in line to make those decisions if the patient does not have planning documents and has no spouse or adult kids. Their 40-year estrangement was irrelevant to the statutory powers given to the father.

While his medical needs were now being met, there was no one with authority to handle Michael’s finances. Michael’s father applied to be the guardian of his estate. By statute, he was next in line to be appointed. 

The result was that, at the end of his life, Michael’s finances and medical care were handled by his closest living relative, the man who raised and cared for him.  

The law continued to protect Michael even in death. His father, because he was next in line by statute, made all the decisions about his funeral and handling of his remains. Then came the ultimate result: Michael’s father ended up with half of Michael’s estate. The other half went to Michael’s deceased mother’s side of the family.

Adult Child-Parent Relationships and the Law

The law runs both ways. If a father has certain rights that cannot be merely wished away by a child, then a child has certain rights that cannot be wished away by a father, either.

Because Michael’s father did not have a living spouse, Michael, as the sole adult child, would have been next in line to make medical decisions for his father. The primary right, as it is for most statutory preferences, is given to his father’s spouse, but if there is no spouse, or the spouse is unable to act, then the adult child is next. 

Michael, as the sole adult child, would be next on the list after the spouse to be appointed guardian of the estate and person for his father.  

Michael would have the right, after a spouse, to dispose of his father’s body after death and make all of the final arrangements.

Michael, as the only child, would be his father’s sole heir if his father was not survived by a spouse.

Hammerle Finley Law Firm is Here to Help With Estate Planning

In Texas, when children grow up into adults, they don’t grow out of a legal relationship with their parents. Both sides can sign estate planning documents to mitigate the law’s impact, but that doesn’t mean it goes away. If you or a loved one need help with estate planning, contact the experts at Hammerle Finley Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.

And remember: treat your father and mother kindly. They could have the last word. 

Virginia Hammerle is an accredited estate planner and represents clients in estate planning, probate, guardianship, and contested litigation. She may be reached at This blog contains general information only and does not constitute legal advice.