High school graduation is a time to rejoice and to start new adventures. It’s also a time for changes in the eyes of the law. When a child turns 18, he or she becomes a legal adult. Parents need to consider how to handle certain situations anew.
As a parent, your legal authority, which was crystal clear when your child was a minor, is now diminished (even if your child is away at college financed by you!). One situation that can be particularly problematic is a medical emergency.
Because of a medical privacy law called HIPAA, you can have difficulty helping your college student/young adult in a medical emergency. HIPAA was created by the federal government to protect your privacy rights as a patient. But sadly, it is often misinterpreted by hospitals. Hospital staff routinely cite HIPAA as reason for withholding critical patient information, out of fear of violating this law. This means that a hospital may not give you information about your child’s condition over the phone, and they may not even acknowledge whether your adult child has been admitted to their facility. This can be particularly problematic for children who are away at college or otherwise not living nearby. Here is one parent’s explanation of what happened when her child had a medical emergency away from home:
“I called the hospital and the doctor – no one, no one would tell me anything, even though I explained I was her mother and that I was in St. Louis. I was told that Kimberly was ‘of age’ and that HIPAA governed release of information.”
-mother of a college student
This parent did eventually get information about her child, but she had to pull strings and call in favors so that the hospital staff would “bend the rules” and talk to her about her daughter. Not until she travelled out-of-state and actually arrived at the hospital did she receive the complete diagnosis.
The right documentation, like a HIPAA release (or full set of advance directives) can ensure that a parent can get complete medical information about your child in an emergency. “It means that you won’t be stonewalled by the hospital or by HIPAA barriers, so you can help your child right away.”
Another important document is an Advanced Health Care Directive. If your son or daughter is unconscious, this document will spell out their wishes regarding their healthcare and give you the authority to act on their behalf.
These two documents are simple to create, notarize and to have on hand. There is a one-time minimal cost. But no one walks around with copies. How will a doctor or hospital know they exist?
There are companies that will store these documents for you and electronically send them to doctors or hospitals 24/7 via fax or email.
Besides healthcare, there are other legal changes that take place when a child turns 18. The State Bar of California has created a guide, “When You Become Eighteen: A Survival Guide For Teenagers.” It touches on everything from the type of bank account they are eligible for to the consequences of committing a crime. Download this free document (in English or Spanish). It was updated in 2011.
Whether your 18-year-old is going away to college or living at home, it’s important that parents know their rights and how they’ve changed. At the same time, it’s very important these young adults know what turning 18 means in the eyes of the law and what their rights are.
Steve Greenwood, Esq.