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Protecting Family Members After Their 18th Birthday

If you have children who are age 18 or older, do you have the legal documents that are needed to access their health care and financial information when the unexpected happens, or to make medical decisions for them when they aren’t able to decide for themselves?

The law considers a person 18 or over to be an adult, and parents are often stunned to learn that they no longer have automatic access to the child’s health information or financial accounts. Whether living at home or away, a young adult may run sometimes become embroiled in precarious or even dangerous situations where they need a parent (or other adult) to help or intervene. No one hopes to have to use documents like these, but having them in place will provide parents with a sense of assurance and peace of mind, along with the ability to take action when needed.

Power of Attorney − Gives someone (a parent or other adult) the authority to sign documents on his or her behalf, and to access and direct transactions for financial accounts. You can execute a durable general power of attorney, or you can sign an authorization form prepared by each financial entity that holds his or her accounts. A durable general power of attorney will provide access to all accounts.

Health Care Power of Attorney – Identifies the person authorized to make medical decisions if the young adult is physically unable to do so. When your child has been admitted to a hospital is not the time to learn that you are not authorized to discuss treatment plans or make decisions regarding care.

HIPAA Release − Authorizes medical care providers to release and share medical information. Without it, health providers are prohibited from sharing this information even with a young adult’s family members. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act restricts disclosure of health information, and this release authorizes access by specified persons.

Will − Some young adults should also consider having a will to spell out what happens to their assets if they die. If beneficiaries can be named on all financial accounts, a will may not be necessary. But in certain situations, a will is important to ensure that plans are in place for the disposition of the young adult’s assets, as well as their social network accounts. In the event that a guardian must be appointed, a will can also list preferred persons to act in that role.

FERPA Release − The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs disclosure of educational information, prohibiting many such disclosures to parents once a child reaches the age of 18. A FERPA release enables a parent to continue to have access to such information. Note that some educational institutions may require students to complete and sign the institution’s own preferred paper or electronic forms before they will release information to parents.

Parents and young adult children should also talk about privacy and under what scenarios these documents would be used. Parents whose health insurance covers their children should check with the insurance company to see what processes need to be followed if the student goes to school out of state or abroad.

Our attorneys can help you and your children prepare for the unexpected. We invite you to contact us to discuss the legal documents best suited for your family’s situation.