As a parent you may not realize how few rights you have regarding your adult children’s privacy. Once your child turns 18, you no longer have access to their medical records and lose the ability to direct their care in any meaningful way. You also have no rights to their password-protected cell phones, laptops, other electronic devices, and social media accounts.

Those limitations can cause great heartache in times of crisis. A little forethought, however, can help put you back in the driver’s seat if your child gets into serious medical trouble. A medical emergency can occur anywhere — on the college campus, while studying abroad, or during spring break.

Before your children leave home, create an emergency plan — one you hope you never need but will be glad to have in case of an emergency.

It should include three legal documents: a family password plan, a contact list, and a clear understanding of your child’s wishes.

These Action Steps Help Provide Peace of Mind

Have a Password Plan

You should know how to access your child’s electronic devices and social media accounts in the event he or she no longer can. Negotiate among family members how to share passwords, user IDs, and other critical information. A family password plan lets you salvage memorable photos and key contacts that might otherwise be lost. We recommend families keep a log of those passwords and accounts with all necessary information and place it in a safe place where all family members can find it.

Review Terms of Service 

If your child is reluctant or refuses to share his or her passwords, consider contacting social media accounts to determine whether, and if so, how, they can provide you access to those accounts. Carriers and manufacturers will not breach the privacy of locked phones and laptops.

Keep a List of Friends & Roommates

Privacy laws may prevent the college from sharing other students’ contact information with you. However, knowing how to get in touch with your child’s closest friends may be critical in the event of an emergency. We encourage parents to exchange contact information with their student’s friends and roommates.

Have a HIPAA Privacy Waver

Review the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy waiver with your child and ask him or her to sign it. This form permits healthcare providers to share information with you or include you in conversations about your child’s medical condition.

Start the Conversation 

As difficult as it may be, have a frank discussion with your children about what they want if they unexpectedly pass away. For example, make sure you understand your young adult’s desires regarding organ donation, despite which option they may have selected on their driver’s license. We recommend parents have open and honest conversations about their kids’ wishes once the children become legal adults.

Young Adults Should Have a Basic Estate Plan

Every adult, no matter the age, should have an up-to-date estate plan in place. Among other things, it can provide much needed direction during the emotional turmoil of a health crisis. Sadly, medical catastrophes can strike at any age, so even college students should draw up the following basic documents:

  • Last will and testament: Even college students may own assets or pets. A will can specify who will inherit these things in the unlikely event of their death.
  • Advanced healthcare directives: With a few simple forms, your children can state what medical treatment they would want, or let you make medical decisions for them, if they cannot speak for themselves. Three types of advanced healthcare directives can help protect their wishes:

1. Healthcare power of attorney – Your child can give you (or another adult) the power to make medical decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated.

2. Living will – This document allows your child to approve or decline certain types of medical care, even if that choice has a fatal outcome. In most states, living wills take effect in the event of terminal injury or illness.

3. Do not resuscitate (DNR) order – This document tells medical personnel not to perform CPR if the patient goes into cardiac arrest or stops breathing.

Don't Leave Important Decisions to Chance 

Having a plan in place for your young adult who’s away from home can help provide peace of mind and a greater sense of control in case of an emergency, leaving as little to chance as possible. These same planning steps also apply for an elderly parent or a grown sibling who has no significant other.

Talk to your Hawthorn advisor about how to start these conversations with your children and gain peace of mind for your whole family.