Legal Steps to Take When Your Child Turns 18

By Jeffrey Wang

Legal Steps to Take When Your Child Turns 18

One day your child starts grade school and the next thing you know that child is taller than you and in high school. What happens when that child goes beyond ‘Sweet 16’ and turn 18? In addition, to being able to drive and vote, legally they are an adult. You are still their parents, but the legal landscape changes dramatically. Unless the 18-year-old gives permission, parents can no longer make legal decisions for them or receive private information. By law, parents no longer have the same level of access to or authority over the financial, educational and medical information of their adult children. What parents need to know is that this can cause real problems in case of emergencies. As a result, if you child is moving away for college or taking a job in another city, it is important to talk to your child and to consider the following legal steps.

1. HIPAA Release

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, once your child turns 18, the child’s health records are between the child and his or her health care provider. The HIPAA laws are stringent and can prevent parents from obtaining medical updates in the event your child is unable to communicate his or her wishes to have you involved. Thus, if your child has an accident or medical crisis that results in him or her being unable to communicate, it is critical that you have a HIPAA release. A health care proxy with a HIPAA release enables your child to designate a parent or another trusted guardian-type figure to make medical decisions in case the young adult is physically or mentally incapable to making them. And, in a non-emergency setting, a HIPAA authorization allows medical professionals to speak about a student’s medical condition with whomever the young person designates. Finally, if the student is concerned about sharing too much detail, the document can specify what level or type of information can be shared, for example, blood sugar for a diabetic student.

2. Health Care Power of Attorney

A health care proxy is also called health care power of attorney. Most of us have heard of power-of-attorney when it comes to taking care of elderly parents. But it can apply to young adults as well. If a student goes to school out of state, it might be wise to have health care power of attorney is both states in case of emergencies. This way if you child is involved in an accident or has a bout with mental illness, you will be able to quickly receive information about their conditions at a medical facility. Without the power of attorney, the information a health care facility can provide over the phone may be quite limited.

3. Financial Power of Attorney

Like medical information, an 18-year-old child’s finances are also private. But, as we know, few young people are seasoned experts when it comes to handling money. A financial power of attorney document allows parents to help manage a child’s finances. This power gives parents access to a young person’s bank account, and enables the parents to pay bills and manage financial obligations. The financial power of attorney also can be useful when a child is traveling and does not have full access to his or her accounts.

4. Education Record Release

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, requires that 18 or older students provide written consent before education records such as grades, transcripts, or disciplinary records can be shared with their parents. Many colleges will notify parents about this and provide them with an authorization for their child to sign. If, like many parents, you are paying the bulk of college expenses, you will want to know how your student is doing. An educational record release will allow a parent to check on grades, financial aid, scholarship status, etc.

5. Passport

Parents may want to urge an adult child to get a passport. Many young people travel and once a person is 16 years or older, the passport is good for 10 years. For many people, a passport can serve as a second form of identification in addition to a driver’s license.

6. Voter Registration

Finally, encourage your 18-year-old to register to vote. Some will prefer vote at school, others will want to vote in their home district.

In sum, if you have a child – or grandchild – who is approaching adulthood, talk to an attorney about getting your legal paperwork in order.

Jeffrey Wang is the founding partner of WHGC Law in Newport Beach.