It can be an exciting time for parents of high school seniors. Many are selecting colleges, technical schools, planning for careers after high school, or perhaps a trip abroad. With all the changes that come with being the parent of a child who is turning 18 and in their last year of high school, in most cases parents are not thinking about the legal change that takes place when a child turns 18.

When a child turns 18, he or she is an adult in the eyes of the law. As a result, parents can no longer make legal decisions for their son or daughter, or even receive information about them that is considered private unless they have their son or daughter’s permission. This can have unexpected consequences and create problems, particularly when the son or daughter is many miles away. The good news is that many of these potential problems can be easily avoided with a little bit of planning. The following are a few of the legal documents a parent of child who has turned 18 should consider putting in place:

1. Healthcare Power of Attorney.
Many people only think about having someone execute a healthcare power of attorney if they are elderly or have a medical condition. In reality, everyone over the age of 18 should have a healthcare power of attorney in place. A healthcare power of attorney allows someone to appoint another person to make healthcare decisions for them in the event they are incapacitated. In the event a young adult is miles from home and is in an accident or has a medical condition that renders them incapacitated, even if it is temporary, a properly executed healthcare power of attorney will allow his or her parents to make medical decisions on their behalf. If a healthcare power of attorney is not in place, there is no clear decision-making authority and a legal guardianship may be required in some cases.

2. HIPAA Release.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) is a federal law that protects the privacy of an individual’s medical information. While the HIPAA law provides each of us with important privacy protections, it can also have unintended consequences. For example, parents of a young adult have no legal right to receive any information regarding their adult son or daughter’s healthcare or condition without the son or daughter’s consent. In situations where the son or daughter is incapacitated or otherwise not able to give consent, it can be a frustrating situation for parents who are trying get information on their son or daughter’s condition. This situation can be avoided by having the adult son or daughter sign a HIPAA Release consenting to the release of his or her medical information to the individuals named in the release (e.g., his or her parents).

3. Financial Power of Attorney.
A financial power of attorney allows someone to appoint another person to obtain information and make financial decisions on their behalf. A financial power of attorney can be limited or broad in scope and can be effective immediately or only in the event of legal incapacity depending on your son or daughter’s preference. Financial powers of attorney can be important if a parent is assisting with financial aid matters, or if a young adult is traveling aboard and wants to allow his or her parents to handle their bank accounts and other financial transactions while they are gone.

4. Education Release.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) is a federal law that protects the privacy of a student’s education records and requires that any student over the age of 18 provide written consent before his or her education records (such as grades, transcripts, etc.) can be released, even to parents who are paying the tuition bill. Many educational institutions are proactive and inform parents and students about this requirement. However, some are not, and parents should inquire with their child’s secondary educational institution regarding the requirements for the release of their son or daughter’s educational records.

If you have a young adult in your family and have questions or need assistance with regard to obtaining the above referenced documents, then you should contact one of the estate planning attorneys at Anderson O’Brien who can help you navigate this process.

 

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