Three Important Steps to Take When Your Child Turns 18

If you want to keep an eye on your adult child’s health, financial, and educational matters, you'll need to get permission.

By , Attorney · George Mason University Law School

In can be tough for parents to let go of their children as they enter adulthood. But your children will be adults when they turn 18 and will have the legal right to make their own decisions.

As a parent, you'll no longer have authority over your adult child's medical, financial, or educational information. To ensure that you can continue to help protect your child's interests, talk to your child about setting up the following documents.

HIPAA Release and Health Care Power of Attorney

If you want access to your adult child's medical records, ask your child to sign a HIPAA release form. If you want the ability to make health care decisions in case your child becomes incapacitated, you'll need a health care power of attorney.

HIPAA Release

Your adult child's health records, like the records of all adults, are protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA requires health records to remain private—meaning they generally are accessible by only the adult patient and the health care provider.

Without a HIPAA release (often called a "HIPAA authorization), parents aren't entitled to access an adult child's health records, even if their child is still on their health insurance. Under HIPAA, medical facilities can even withhold information about whether the child is admitted to the facility.

An adult child might be hesitant to provide a blanket release. In that case, your child can use the authorization form to limit what information is released to you.

Once signed, parents should keep this authorization in a safe place so that they can show it to a doctor or hospital should the need ever arise. Some health facilities—like a college student health center—might have their own HIPAA forms that they'll require your child to sign.

Health Care Power of Attorney

The HIPAA release gives the parents only the right to information, not the right to make any medical decisions for their child. To give parents the right to make medical decisions, young adults can use a health care power of attorney to name their parents as their health care agents—sometimes called a "health care proxy."

The health care power of attorney kicks in only when the young adult becomes unable to make medical decisions. Without his document, parents likely will have to petition a court for guardianship to make health care decisions for their child. A guardianship can be costly, and your child will have no say about who will be making medical decisions during a period of incapacity.

If your adult child lives out of state and visits your home state during breaks, draft a valid health care power of attorney form in each state. States have slightly different laws regarding these documents, and medical providers might not honor a document that they don't recognize.

Financial Durable Power of Attorney

Adult children have the right to control their own finances. To conduct financial business on an adult's child behalf, that child must name you as an agent in a financial durable power of attorney.

A financial durable power of attorney specifies what types of financial powers you will have, such as being able to write checks, buy or sell real estate, contact creditors, or make investments on your child's behalf.

The durable power of attorney specifies when you receive these powers. You can have the document go into effect:

  • immediately
  • only if your child becomes incapacitated (called a "springing" power of attorney)
  • for a certain period of time, such as one year from the date of signing the document or while your child is in college, or
  • upon other specified events, such as during any period of time your child is out of the country.

For instance, a power of attorney could authorize you to renew car insurance or vehicle registration while your child does a year abroad. Also, if your child has a car accident and is incapacitated, the power of attorney would allow you to step in to make financial decisions.

Having a power of attorney in place also can help you avoid the expensive and drawn-out process of trying to obtain a conservatorship over an adult child who becomes permanently incapacitated.

Talk with your adult child about how money should be managed and how things will work if your child becomes incapacitated. This conversation can help avoid problems down the line and can help your child understand why you need the power of attorney. An adult has to voluntarily agree to give an agent the power to make financial decisions. You can't just do it on your own, so you'll want to be on the same page with your child.

Educational Records Release

If your adult child is heading to college, you also might want an educational records release. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that students 18 or older provide written consent before their educational records are provided to their parents. Your child's educational records are considered private to your child—even if you're paying the tuition bill.

Without an educational records release, you won't be able to receive your child's grade report. Without a grade report, you might not know if an academic scholarship is in jeopardy or if your child is struggling so much that there could be mental health issues or other troubles. You also might not receive notification that your child's financial aid documents are incomplete. All of these situations could put your child's education—and your own finances—at risk.

Colleges usually have a specific form that students can sign that authorizes the school to release education information to parents.

Getting Help

Whether your child is entering the workforce or heading off to college, squeeze in some time to set up these documents. Your state might have statutory forms that you can use. Health care providers and colleges also might have blank forms. You also can get help from an attorney, or you can make them on your own with a product like WillMaker.

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