When your children turn 18 they are legal adults. They might not act like adults all of the time, and you may still be supporting them financially, but in the eyes of the law they are indeed adults. This means that you can no longer make certain decisions for them, including health care decisions. Furthermore, you can no longer obtain medical information about your adult children without their authorization—even in an emergency.
Consider the following scenario. Your son is away at college and gets severely injured in a car accident. When you become aware of what has happened you immediately call the hospital for information about his condition, but nobody will tell you anything. This is because the law—specifically, a statute enacted in 1996 called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—prevents the disclosure of a patient’s health information without the patient’s consent. The hospital in question could be prosecuted for violating HIPAA guidelines.
This is why your adult children need a legal document called a HIPAA Release. It allows your adult children to list the people who are permitted to receive medical information about them.
Another crucial legal document your adult children need is a Power of Attorney for Health Care, which is also called a Health Care Proxy. It allows them to name a person they trust to make health care decisions on their behalf if they cannot do so themselves. Medical decisions covered by a Power of Attorney for Health Care can include the types of treatments allowed in an end-of-life situation, such as the use of a feeding tube, as well as do not resuscitate orders.
Similarly, a Power of Attorney for Finances allows your adult children to designate a trusted individual to make financial decisions if they cannot make them on their own.
If your adult children have their own Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Finances, and they name you as their agent in the documents, you will be able to make medical and financial decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated. If you are named in your adult children’s HIPAA release, you can get medical information about their condition in an emergency.