By: Patrice M. Ticknor

When your child turns 18, you lose some legal rights as a parent with respect to access to his or her medical, financial, and educational information. Additionally, when your child becomes an adult you lose the ability to act on his or her behalf regarding medical and financial matters.

HIPAA Authorization & Patient Advocate Designation (a/k/a Power of Attorney for Health Care)

If your child is admitted to a hospital, needs medical attention, or otherwise needs to make medical decisions, he or she has the exclusive right to do so as an adult. That means, as a parent, you won’t have the same access to information or ability to make  decisions about your child’s care once he or she turns 18. It may be unpleasant to anticipate your child experiencing a medical emergency or health problem, but it is better to be prepared.

At 18, you will lose access to your child’s medical records under  the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This means your 18 year old child, now an adult patient, is the only individual with access to his or her medical records other than health care providers. Even if your child is largely dependent on you to assist with his or her medical needs or for health insurance, hospitals and health care providers must comply with HIPAA regulations and can’t legally make exceptions without proper authorization.

A HIPAA Authorization signed by your child allows health care providers to disclose medical information to you. Parents should keep this form safely filed for future use. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use the authorization, but you can worry less knowing you have it.

Having a HIPAA authorization is important, but it will not give you the ability to make medical decisions for your child should that be necessary. In Michigan, anyone “18 years of age or older who is of sound mind at the time a patient advocate designation is made may designate in writing another individual who is 18 years of age or older to exercise powers concerning care, custody, and medical or mental health treatment decisions for the individual making the patient advocate designation.” A Patient Advocate Designation (a/k/a durable power of attorney for health care) allows the designated advocate to make medical decisions for your child if he or she is not able to do so.

If your child is moving out of Michigan to attend college or to work, be sure to consult that state’s relevant law to make sure the Patient Advocate Designation will be effective in that jurisdiction.

Finally, if your child is attending college, you may need to fill out paperwork specific to your child’s institution. For example, in addition to a HIPAA release, some schools may require parents to obtain their child’s permission to access records about his or her treatment at the school’s health clinic.

Durable Power of Attorney

While a Patient Advocate Designation allows parents to make medical decisions  when necessary, a Durable Power of Attorney (DPA) is needed for parents to manage their child’s finances if needed or desirable. The person(s)  granted power of attorney is called an “attorney in fact” or “agent” and is allowed to make decisions and take actions as authorized by the DPA. A DPA allows parents to help manage financial matters such as paying tuition, making investments, or obtaining loans, etc. Having a DPA in place helps avoid red tape involved with paying bills for a child, wiring money for a trip abroad, or inquiring about a student loan on the child’s behalf.

A power of attorney may provide that it applies only in certain situations (e.g., in the event of the child’s  incapacity). It is also possible that authority under the power of attorney is only established for a limited period of time. This may be helpful if a parent and child decide that the power of attorney will only be necessary while the child attends college. Talk with your child about what option will suit his or her needs. Your child must establish the power of attorney, so make sure he or she knows what it entails. You can take the opportunity to teach your child about responsible financial habits and how to handle financial and/or legal matters independently. The process and requirements for establishing a power of attorney varies by state, so make sure your DPA complies with the state in which your child attends school or resides.

Educational Records Release

When your child heads off to college at age 18, you won’t be able to access his or her academic records unless he or she signs a release form.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires an adult student’s written permission to grant parents access to his or her educational records. This law is important for protecting your child’s academic privacy, but you’ll be left in the dark about his or her grades and financial aid information even if you are paying the tuition.

Typically, FERPA release forms can be found on college or university websites. Either you or your child can contact the school business office or registrar with any questions you have about academic privacy.

When your child turns 18, your relationship might not change, but your rights and responsibilities as a parent do. Whether your child is moving away to go to college or staying at home and working, make it a priority to obtain these documents. You will have peace of mind and may avoid some headaches down the road.