Three Important Steps to Take When Your Child Turns 18

If you want to keep an eye on your child health, financial, and educational matters after he or she becomes an adult, you'll need to get permission.

When your child turns 18, he or she legally becomes an adult, and as the parent of that adult you no longer have authority over your child’s medical, financial, or educational information. To ensure that you can continue to be informed and protect your child’s interests, talk to your child about setting up the following documents.

HIPAA Release & Power of Attorney for Health Care

If you want access to your child’s medical records and have the ability to make health care decisions on your child’s behalf, ask your child to sign a HIPAA release form and a health care power of attorney. Your child’s records, like the records of all adults, are protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which states that health records are private between the adult patient and the health care provider. Without authorization, parents are not entitled to access to these 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.

If your 18-year-old is hesitant to provide a blanket release, he or she 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. Students might also need to sign a release form that is specific to the college student health center.

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 agent (or proxy). The power make medical decisions kicks in only when the young person becomes unable to make medical decisions for him or herself. Without a health care power of attorney, parents may have to petition a court for guardianship to make these decisions, which is costly and winds up restricting the child’s rights much more than simply having the power to make medical decisions for them through a power of attorney

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

Your child may want to go one step further by completing a living will in which he or she outlines instructions for end-of-life treatment. Your child can determine ahead of time what type of life-sustaining treatment he or she would want to receive in a medical crisis. Your child can also include other instructions on this form, such as donating organs. While this may not be an easy conversation, it is an important one to have now that your child is an adult.

Financial Durable Power of Attorney

Now that your child is eighteen years old, he or she has the right to control his or her own finances. To have access to your child’s financial information or conduct financial business on your child’s behalf, your child must name you as an agent in a financial 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/sell/rent real estate, contact creditors, make investments or conduct other financial business 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
  • upon other specified events, such as during any period of time your child is out of the country

Having a durable power of attorney can help you maintain the child’s finances while he or she is out of town. For example, if your child does a year abroad, this document can help you contact his insurance company or renew her vehicle registration. Or if your child has a car accident and is unable to make financial decisions, you can step in. And having a power of attorney in place can help you avoid the expensive and drawn-out process of trying to obtain a conservatorship over your child if your child becomes permanently incapacitated.

Talk with your child about how money should be managed now that he or she is an adult, and talk about how things will work if he or she becomes incapacitated and can’t manage his or her own finances. This can help avoid problems down the line and can help your child understand why you need the power of attorney. Your child has to voluntarily agree to give you this power; you can’t just do it for him or her, so you want to be on the same page.

Educational Records Release

If your child is heading to college, you may also need 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 might not be able to receive your child’s grade report, you might not know if an academic scholarship is in jeopardy, and you might not be notified if your child’s grades drop to such a degree that shows they may be having mental health or other troubles. You may not receive notification that your child’s financial aid documents are incomplete, either. All of these situations can 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.

Get Help

While you are busy back-to-school shopping, setting up your child’s dorm room, and taking a last road trip with your teen, squeeze in some time to set up these documents. You can get help from an attorney, your child’s college may provide these forms, or you can make them on your own, with a product like WillMaker.

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