They grow up so fast, right? As they say, the days are long, but the years are short. So now your “child” is 18 and, in the eyes of the healthcare system, an adult. Mom (or Dad) likely still knows best, but guess what? The law dictates that the healthcare system treat your “just learning how to do laundry” teenager as the legal decision-maker for all of their healthcare matters, which means their providers cannot include you in any health decisions without your child’s consent (since they’re now – technically – a legal adult).
We’re hopeful this is information you’ll never need to know, but if you do, you too will have that “oh, crap” moment that many a parent has had when their child goes off to college, travels or is out of the house for any other reason and the phone rings in a healthcare emergency. Let’s start with some general information and then get right to what you need, where to get it and where to put it.
What age does a child become an adult for medical purposes?
When it comes to medical matters, most people become legally recognized as adults when they reach the age of 18. This means they are able to make decisions themselves regarding their health care. Parents might also have access if someone is mentally or physically incapacitated, but otherwise, your access will require their consent.
How do I ensure a doctor will speak with me in case of an emergency with my child?
You need a Healthcare Proxy. This signed document will allow you the legal ability to communicate with medical professionals on behalf of your child if they are unable to do so and make decisions on their behalf. Because there are state-specific versions of the document, you may need more than one proxy if your child is attending college out of state.
Websites that allow you to download templates will first ask you the state for which you’re requesting the proxy. Keep in mind legal websites charge for forms – we recommend Law District, which has a 7 day trial for $7.99 that will allow you to download all the forms you need and then cancel if you want (we’re not affiliated with this company in any way – we’re just resourceful and cheap ).
Can I access my child’s medical records once they turn 18?
Under HIPAA rules, once your child turns 18, you can no longer access their health records without written consent. However, they can provide consent for you to access their medical records through a HIPAA release form (see the link in this article for a downloadable version), which grants access to medical information from their provider to a designated third party, such as a parent or other family member.
Note: The above documents are not interchangeable. You need both a HIPAA release and a healthcare proxy: The HIPAA release allows you to get information about your child’s medical status and records, and the healthcare proxy enables you to make decisions on behalf of your child if they’re unable to do so.
Power Of Attorney
Not every family will decide to execute a power of attorney, but it’s important to understand what it is and make a deliberate decision as to whether or not you need it. A power of attorney allows you to access your child’s financial resources and sign legal documents for them. If you were in a situation where you needed to resolve bills or other financial situations for them, you could access their bank and credit card accounts.
This document also enables you to act on behalf of your child if they are in another city, state or country and they need help with their financial matters. A durable power of attorney is the preferred type of power of attorney to put in place for your child, because it can be broad enough to handle most of your child’s potential situations and is effective immediately, and it continues even if the child were to become incapacitated. A limited power of attorney would only give the authority to act for limited purposes and a springing power of attorney is only effective in the case of incapacity.
You can also download any of these documents from Law District as well, so if you pay the $7.99 fee, we’d suggest downloading everything you think you might need all at once so you don’t have to pay again later if you decide you need it.
What do I do with all of this stuff?
Most people put them in a safe – very secure but not super handy in emergency situations. Before you store the documents in the safe or your filing cabinet, create a Kith + Kin “Legal Documents” notebook and add scanned copies or photos of each document along with any notes to the notebook. Share the Kith + Kin Legal Documents notebook with your child, partner, and/or a grandparent. It might even make sense to share the Legal Document notebook with your child’s RA or roommate if they’re away at college.
Kith + Kin is here to support the way YOU need to manage information – on your terms and at your fingertips. We hope this helps you feel at least a little more prepared – whether you’re crying your eyes out when they leave or looking forward to everything being where you left it the day before, we’ve got you.