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Eighteen-Year-Olds Are Adults

Mary Lou Daly
August 2017
by Mary Lou Daly, CPA, CFP®

I've never considered myself a helicopter mom. However, I have always considered myself part of the parent-doctor team when my children's health was at issue. I learned I was mistaken about this during my son's freshman year at college, when he called to say he wasn't feeling well. As he was an eighteen-year-old male, I didn't get much information out of him, except for the fact that he had been to see the school nurse. I called the school health service, only to be told that no one there could disclose any information to me about my son's health. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I managed to thank them and hang up. Two days later, Tyler was rushed to the emergency room for fluids. I received a phone call from his doctor, and the first thing she said was, "Tyler gave me permission to speak to you." Gave her permission? I'm his mother! What if Tyler had not given permission? What recourse would I have to make this doctor talk to me?

Fortunately, Tyler recovered fully. But I learned the hard way that when your child turns eighteen, he legally becomes an adult. That means that you, the parent, no longer have control over legal and medical decisions. I also learned that the three documents listed below could have helped me tremendously.

Here are three legal documents that all individuals eighteen years old and over should execute:

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1966, which established the rules of privacy for health care providers. This document details who can look at and receive your health information.

Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)
The HCPOA form authorizes a specific individual to make medical decisions in the event the executor becomes incapacitated. In my example above, providing the college and emergency room with a HIPAA form signed by Tyler would have given them permission to speak to me about his medical condition. Had he become unconscious, the HCPOA form would have given me the authority to make medical decisions for him.

Durable Power of Attorney (POA)
A POA allows you to act on your child's behalf in legal and financial matters. This type of authorization would have been crucial had Tyler become incapacitated. An example of a non-medical usage of a POA is the power it could give you to cash a check, sign a tax return or open an account if your child is enjoying a semester abroad or unable to get home from college.

If you have children or grandchildren turning eighteen, please let us know. While we are not lawyers, we know a few who can help you with these important documents. As always, we are happy to help guide the process while welcoming your young family members into adulthood.

This information is believed to be accurate but should not be used as specific investment or tax advice. You should always consult your tax professional or other advisors before acting on the ideas presented here.