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Legal Documents Your 18-Year-Old Might Need

Health Care Legal Documents

If you are about to send your 18-year-old off to college, you are probably busy with last-minute shopping, packing and worrying about roommates.  But have you considered what happens if your child lands in the hospital after a car accident or a serious illness?

When your child turns 18, he or she is legally in charge of their own life, and health care providers are no longer authorized to discuss their medical conditions with you.  That means that if you call the hospital, medical providers may refuse to disclose details unless your child has certain documentation in place.  Nor are you entitled to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf without paperwork that says you can.

So, before your 18-year-old leaves home, it makes sense to discuss a few legal matters.  Below is a summary of the common legal documents you may want your child to sign in case of emergency.

Durable power of attorney.

This form grants a parent the authority to sign documents for their child, which is particularly helpful if the student goes abroad for a semester.  The parent is also entitled to handle routine tasks such as renewing a child’s car registration while they are at college out of state, managing financial accounts held in their name or filing a tax return on their behalf.

Medical power of attorney or health proxy.

This document gives you authority to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf in the event he or she is unable to do so.

Advance directive for health care (also known as living will).

This document outlines the student’s wishes about life-extending medical treatment, as well as other intentions, such as organ donations.

HIPAA release.

This form, which pertains to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, allows health care providers to release and share medical information with designated people. Unless you are designated by a HIPAA form, doctors may choose not to discuss your child’s condition with you, although they may decide to do so if they think it is in your child’s best interest.  Providers’ disclosure rules vary, so it is best to have it in writing.

Note that in some states the medical power of attorney, living will, and HIPAA release can be combined into one document.

FERPA consent to release student information or power of attorney for educational purposes.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student education records.  FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records.  These rights transfer to the student when he or she turns 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level, and at that time, the student’s education records may be disclosed only with the student’s prior written consent.  This form provides consent, allowing educational institutions to disclose the student’s education records to parents.

For questions about this or any related topic, please do not hesitate to contact Estate, Trust, and Individual Tax Group co-chairs Judith A. Harris or James J. Costello, Jr. or a member of our Estate Planning & Administration Group or Taxation Group.