18 is the Magic Number

Congratulations! Your child graduated from high school. Many of these newly minted young adults will leave the nest, spreading out across the country to different colleges and universities. Parenting is about to enter a new phase.

You may be putting together a list of things your child will need: Mini fridge, new linens, cleaning supplies – all the things an 18-year-old needs for his or her first year away from home. One thing that may not be on your to-do list (yet!) is having your child complete a power of attorney form and a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) authorization form.

Can you imagine not being able to get information on your child’s medical condition if your child gets sick or hurt at school? After turning 18, your child is an adult in the eyes of the law. You may still think of them as your little boy or girl, but you legally cannot continue to make decisions for them as you have in the past.

Below are very important documents you may consider having your child complete before sending them off to college:

1. Durable Health Care Power of Attorney (POA)

A Health Care POA appoints an ‘agent’ to make medical decisions on behalf of someone in case that person isn’t able to make those decisions for themselves. The person’s agent communicates the injured or sick person’s wishes to the hospital or medical staff. The use of the word ‘durable’ simply means that the power stays in effect after the person becomes incapacitated.

Most often, an 18-year-old or young adult has a parent act as their agent. However, it can be anyone.  Just make sure it is someone that is trusted and will act in the young adult’s best interests. It is also important to name at least one successor agent if the first agent is unavailable or unwilling to act.

There are many sites where advance directives such as a power of attorney for health care form can be downloaded and completed by your child without a lawyer. For Illinois, the Health Care POA can be found here.  For Wisconsin, the Health Care POA can be found here.  Each state has its own nuances to the law, so it is recommended to complete a form for your home state and, if the child is attending college out of state, the state where your child is attending college.

According to Lauren Anderson, the Director of Social Work for NorthShore University Health System, “When an 18-year-old goes for their physical, you should ask your primary care physician for an advance directive that includes a POA. You can sign it there and give it to your primary care doctor, and they can scan it into the system.”

2. HIPAA Authorization Form

In many cases, the HIPAA authorization is incorporated into the Health Care POA. HIPAA requires doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other healthcare providers to protect their patients’ health information. Once your child turns 18, he or she is considered an adult and is protected by these HIPAA rules.

If your child gets hurt or sick while at home or away at college and is taken to the hospital, the hospital staff cannot share any information about your child’s condition without a HIPAA consent form signed by your child. A signed HIPAA authorization form allows the agent to have access to information. Whoever is listed as the agent can have access to information about the person. A HIPAA authorization form can be found here.


Once you have filled out the forms, what do you do? Give a copy to the person(s) acting on your child’s behalf. You should also give a copy of the Health Care POA to your child’s doctor and keep several for yourself. “Keeping an electronic version of the POA on your phone or computer is a good idea,” says Anderson.

If your child ever changes their mind or cancels their documents, the safest way to do this is to complete a new form and let everyone involved know the person has changed their instructions. Then destroy all the copies of the old form. “If there is more than one signed form with different dates, NorthShore will honor whichever one has the most recent date,” explained Anderson.


While these documents may be the last thing you are thinking about as you send your child off to school, they serve to protect you and your child. At the very least, taking a look at these documents and talking to the appropriate professionals may save you time and a potential headache down the road.

Also, these forms are not just for people turning 18 – they are for anyone from age 18 to 118. You may want to review your own POA during this process as well.

If you have any questions or need help finding or filling out the forms, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

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