As a parent, you are most likely quite accustomed to managing the legal and medical affairs of your children, as circumstances require. If your child requires urgent medical attention while away from you, a simple phone call authorizing care usually can do the trick. But what happens when those “children” turn 18, and are now adults in the eyes of the law, and need of urgent medical attention far from home?
The simple fact is that the day your child turns 18, he or she becomes an adult, and have the legal rights of an adult. What this means for you is that you lose your prior held rights to make medical and financial decisions for your child, unless your child executes legal documents giving you those rights back. Without the proper legal documents in place, accessing medical information, and even being informed about your adult child’s medical condition can be difficult and in some cases, impossible.
When sending kids off to college, it is important to consider the legal implications an accident or medical emergency might have on your ability to stay informed and participate in important decision making for your young adult child. Medical professionals have a responsibility to follow the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which ensures medical privacy protection for all adults. Once your child turns 18, they are (from a legal perspective) no more attached to you than a stranger, making communication about medical issues tricky if your child is incapacitated and not able to grant permission on their own.
In most states, there are three legal documents which can make all the difference when a medical crisis strikes and your young adult child is far from home. When utilized together, they can ensure a parent or trusted adult be kept in the loop about care and treatment when a child over the age of 18 experiences a medical event while they are away at college, traveling, or living far from home. As with most legal documents, the law varies from state to state, so be sure to seek out the counsel of your Personal Family Lawyer® to determine which forms suit your situation best.
HIPAA – Essentially like a permission slip, this authorization allows your adult child to specify who is allowed access to their personal medical information. Specific information can be specifically withheld, such as drug use, sexual activity, and mental health issues can so that additional privacy can be protected if desired.
Medical power of attorney – Designates an agent to make medical decisions for the young adult. This could be you, as the parent or another trusted adult. Each state has different laws governing medical power of attorney, thereby requiring different forms. Be sure to check with your Personal Family Lawyer® to be sure you are following the laws of your state, as well as the state in which your child resides.
Durable financial power of attorney – Allows the parent or another trusted adult to take care of personal business in the event the adult child is unable to do so. This form would allow the parent to take care of such important tasks such as signing tax returns, paying bills, and accessing bank accounts for the incapacitated adult child. A durable power of attorney is indeed powerful and gives broad access to sensitive financial and legal decision making and should only be given to a trusted relative or friend.
The milestones come quickly once children graduate from high school and enter into the big, wide world away from home. As your family navigates these significant rites of passage, be sure to consult us as your Estate Planning Lawyer to determine the steps necessary to ensure excellent communication and peace of mind when a medical emergency arises. Consider including your young adult children in the process. We’re here to help your family establish the legal and medical protections you all need to live the lives you desire.