A Mom gets a call from a cross-country Emergency Room informing her that her 19-year old college student has been admitted. That’s all she is allowed to know. That’s all they are allowed to say. She is not allowed any additional information – under the patient privacy protection afforded by federal regulations. This is because her 18-year-old is no longer her “child” in the eyes of privacy laws, he is now an ADULT!
And, unless the young adult gave Mom or Dad a written Health Care Directive with a HIPAA Release Authority, Mom or Dad cannot “act” as their child’s health care Agent (like they could when he or she was a minor), and cannot get medical information, medical records, nor make medical decisions for their child – it’s the law!
I always counsel my clients who come to me for their own estate planning to consider estate planning for their children, who have recently attained the age of majority (i.e., turned 18). Essential estate planning tool for a young adult (and a peace of mind of Mom and Dad) would be a Health Care Directive to allow parents to continue being the medical proxy and be able to receive medical records (like, for example, a toxicology screen from the late night after-party emergency room visit).
( Likewise, a husband and wife – just by virtue of being married to each other – are not by default each other’s legally health care agents either, unless there is a formal Health Care Directive signed by each, appointing the other as his or her Agent).
Financial Powers of Attorney are another good tool to for parents of young adults to step in and be able to sign for their [no longer] “children”. The ability of a parent to review and sign a young adult’s first lease agreement, or a car lease, or be listed as a Power of Attorney on a youngster’s first checking account, or be able to sign his/her tax return, etc. is sometimes quite valuable to have in place. This is also a good way to introduce children to the notion of estate planning because sooner or later, the family dynamic will circle back to “who gets what” when parents, or other relatives, pass on and possibly appoint their children as Executors or Trustees. It teaches good planning habits and introduces young adults to the legal concepts of responsibility in terms of self and others, financially, and health-wise.