When your child turns 18, there are many things to look forward to: graduation ceremonies, bright futures, and moving out of your house (eventually). However, one thing you may not be aware of is how the magic age of 18 suddenly turns your “child” into an adult under the law.
What Does Being Adult Mean?
Once a child is 18 or your state’s age of majority, they are considered an adult in most states. That means they have certain rights such as voting and marrying. In addition, they can enter into binding contracts and can file lawsuits or be sued. They also have legal responsibilities and are liable for negligence, contracts they sign, and crimes they commit. You are no longer obligated to provide support for your child. However, there are exceptions if your child is mentally or physically disabled and cannot care for or support themselves.
How to Access Your Adult Child’s Information
Because they are “adults” under the law, you no longer have access to their medical, financial, and educational records. And there is no guarantee you can make their medical or financial decisions if they are unable due to incapacity, even if you continue to support them. Fortunately, there are ways to access your child’s information and help them if they are unable. Here are some common issues and legal documents to help:
|I can’t get medical information on my child.||HIPAA waiver|
|I can’t get educational information on my child.||FERPA release|
|I can’t make medical decisions for my child.||health care power of attorney|
|I can’t make financial decisions for my child.||financial power of attorney|
|My child does not have a will and is “intestate.”||last will and testament|
In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Part of that act prohibits health care professionals and facilities from releasing private medical information without your prior authorization. Since your child is an adult, they are the ones who now authorize the release. Therefore, if you call their doctor to renew a prescription on their behalf, the doctor cannot talk to you. Your child, however, can complete a HIPAA Waiver authorizing you to speak to their doctor. Each doctor or medical facility will have its own release form. You may also find a general release form on the internet.
When your child is in school, you have a right to their educational records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). On your child’s 18th birthday, or if they attend a school after high school, that right transfers to your child. Therefore, you can’t access your child’s education records. Yes, you read that correctly. Even if you are funding your child’s college education, 100%, you can’t see their grades if they don’t want you to. Your child must permit you to get information on their academic records. To do this, they sign a FERPA release form authorizing you to access their education records. There is no standard FERPA release form. Your child’s college may have its own release form that your child signs. However, if your child does not consent but is still your dependent, you may show proof of their dependent status with your tax return.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A medical or health care power of attorney allows your child to designate you as their health care agent. Therefore, if your child is incapacitated and can’t make health care decisions, you have access to their medical records and can make health care and treatment decisions. Some health care power of attorney forms includes an advance medical directive (also known as a living will) where your child states their preferences for care if they have a terminal or end-stage condition where death is imminent. A health care power of attorney is essential if they are in another state or location for you. You can send a copy to the health care facility to enable you to handle their health care decisions. In the heartbreaking event your child is dying, you can follow their end-of-life wishes in their living will.
Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney lets your child’s name you as their power of attorney to access their bank accounts and handle their finances if they are unable. They specify when this authority begins, either immediately or upon their incapacity. If your child is incapacitated, you have permission to handle their financial transactions and keep up with bills and taxes.
Last Will and Testament
It may seem strange that an 18-year-old young adult may need a will. What do they have to give? However, if an adult dies without a will, they are “intestate.” That means the state decides on the distribution of their estate. A will reduces costs by speeding up the probate process. And your child can name you as the personal representative to handle their estate. You do not need a lawyer for legal documents such as a health care power of attorney, a financial power of attorney, or a will. Especially if your child does not have a lot of assets in their name, you can find do-it-yourself options on the internet, such as FindLaw Legal Forms & Services. However, if your child has special needs or has significant assets, a local estate planning attorney can advise you about trusts to protect them.
Article by Catherine Hodder, Esq.