Make Sure You Can Help Your Children When They Need You

Even when your child turns the magic age of 18, your children are still your babies, but the government does not see them in that manner anymore. According to the law, a parent no longer has legal rights to their offspring’s protected records —their medical, financial, and academic records. It does not matter if the child is still in high school, living under your roof, or on your insurance. Your rights abruptly halt the day they turn 18.  

Parents who wish to continue providing assistancefor their child in simple situations (such as transferring medical records to their new doctor close to their college town, transferring money from one bank account to another, or making medical decisions in case of an emergency) needs legal documents to work on behalf of the child. Here is a list of legal documents you should have in your possession:

HIPAA waiver

In 1996, the federal government created HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act which protects our private health data. This law also prevents a parent from getting access to their young adult’s records.  When our son turned 18, my wife could longer schedule his doctor’s appointments, order his prescriptions, or pay his bills. Without a HIPAA authorization form, when our son was in the emergency room because of a peanut allergy reaction, we could not get status updates until he approved us to see him.  A HIPAA authorization, signed by your adult child and naming you as an authorized party, gives you the ability to ask for and receive information from health care providers about their health status, progress, and treatment.  Young adults can be involved in a car, scooter, ski, or biking accident. Make sure you have this form to access your child’s health information.

Note: Some doctors have this form in their office that you can sign, but in case of any emergencies, their new doctors will not have signed copies of these forms. A comprehensive form provides permission in any situation.  If your child is on your insurance, your insurance company can tell you what tests were performed but cannot tell you why the treatment was completed.

Medical power of attorney

Another necessary form that young adults sign is a medical power of attorney form, which appoints an individual to make health care decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated due to severe injury or illness.  You, as a parent, could face the costly and time-consuming legal process of securing guardianship rights in court that would enable you  to make decisions on your child’s behalf if a medical power of attorney is not in place.  

There are many cases where parents have been stuck in court seeking guardianship. Click here to read about the Covington’s court battle or this case where a son was in a snowboarding accident, and the mother had little say in her son’s care. 

Durable power of attorney

Many young adults sign up for subscriptions, get on health insurance programs with their schools, purchase cars, and have other financial obligations.  To simplify your life and your child’s, your child should consider having a durable power of attorney, which allows a parent to handle their child’s financial affairs (pay their student loan bills, make car payments, access their bank accounts, pay taxes) if they take a GAP year or becomes incapacitated. 

Living will

No one likes to think that a bad thing will happen, especially to our children, but thousands of parents have to bury a child every year. Many children have opinions based on their values. A living will, sometimes called an advance directive, specifies personal choices about life-extending medical treatment if you cannot communicate your wishes yourself.

A living will is different from a last will which clarifies how you want your property and assets distributed after you pass away. By contrast, a living will define what you want to happen while still alive.

Other important forms that your young adult may want to consider:

FERPA waiver 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, is designed to protect the privacy of educational records, including report cards, disciplinary actions, and test results. FERPA permits parents to access those records, request corrections as needed, and determine who else gets to see them when their child is a minor. However, when the student turns 18 or enters postsecondary school (college) at any age, their academic record becomes solely their own.  Many parents feel that if they are paying the tuition, they should have access to education records or stay involved in their child’s academic decisions. In order to get access, most colleges will not release education records to parents without the student’s written consent — a FERPA waiver.

If you feel this is important for your family, talk to your child about signing a FERPA form. 

Bank Account Changes

Many banks offer Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts which allow you to save money for your child’s future needs. Other young adults inherit funds from grandparents or other loved ones at the age of 18.  Make sure that these accounts are changed to reflect the child’s inheritance.

Here again, an attorney can be instrumental in helping you determine which estate planning documents you — and your adult child — may need.

You can get some of these forms online but know that if your child is in a different state from where you live, it might be more challenging to know what form is best for your needs. Estate planning documents of any kind can be complicated. And an attorney can be a valuable resource in helping you determine what you and your family needs.

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