July 24th, 2019
Your “baby” is turning 18. Such a milestone! He/she is now considered an adult and with that comes many new responsibilities. As parents, we want to continue to be there for our children as they strike out on their own, be it college, a job, or maybe even a gap year. Until now, as they were minors, we automatically had both the right and responsibility to make decisions we deemed in their best interest. It can be a shock to realize that as the 18th birthday candle is being blown out, without express written consent from our child, we might no longer be informed about or legally capable of being included in potentially life-altering situations.
Imagine your son or daughter is away at college. You get that middle-of-the-night call that no parent ever wants from a hospital. There has been an accident. Does your child have a signed HIPAA form? Is now the time you really want to think about that? The doctor may or may not share information with you without consent. Or perhaps, it’s not a life and death situation, but an academic one instead. You’ve sent your child off to the college of their dreams and you are footing the tuition. He continues to reassure you that “everything is great,” but you have that nagging parental instinct that it’s not. Without a signed FERPA waiver in place, the school will be unable to discuss your child or disclose any information to you.
There are a few legal documents that you may wish to have your teen sign, before they leave home, so that you can more easily assist in case of emergency. If your child will be out-of-state, perhaps for college, you should consult an attorney to determine if paperwork is needed for both your home state as well as the state that your child will be living in.
HIPAA Release: Medical information is private. Doctors and medical professionals do not have the authority to share information unless there is a signed release form, regardless of who is providing the coverage and even paying the bills. The HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release allows health care providers to release information to designated people. Without a signed HIPAA form, doctors may choose not to discuss your child’s condition with you, however if they deem it to be in the child’s best interest, they may share information. In order to avoid the potential of being unable to know what’s going on in an emergency, this signed form could be most useful.
Health Care Proxy or Medical Power of Attorney and Living Will or Advance Care Directive: A health care proxy or medical power of attorney gives you that authority to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf if they are unable to do so for themselves. For example, if your child were to fall, get knocked unconscious and therefore unable to make medical decisions for herself, a parent has that authority when the child is a minor, but not once the child turns 18. In the unlikely event of a horrific accident, a living will outlines a person’s wishes about life-extending medical treatments. This document can also outline organ donation wishes. If family members have different views, it can be helpful to have someone’s wishes written out, so that their beliefs/requests are known and honored.
Durable Power of Attorney: A durable power of attorney form gives someone the authority to act on your behalf as it relates to financial matters. This could include paying bills, filing taxes or even renewing car registration. This can be helpful if your child is incapacitated and unable to do this for themselves or even if your child takes a semester abroad, allowing the designated person(s) to handle their financial issues.
FERPA Waiver for College Students: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of educational records. Once a student turns 18 or attends a school beyond secondary school, the student has sole access to their records, including academic transcript, financial information (including financial aid information), and academic warnings, probation and discipline records. All colleges have FERPA release authorizations that can be signed by the student to allow parental access to this information.
These documents can be designed to give broad or narrow powers to others, depending upon the wishes of the child. Your child may want you to be their advocate in the event of an emergency; however, they may not want you to have full access to all their health care records or financial accounts. We recommend having an open conversation with your teen about the advantages and disadvantages of these documents and their options and rights. You can work with an estate attorney and your college if applicable, to help get these documents in place.