A year ago, @BenefitsLady was wrapping up final details to send my eldest off to college. Having finalized the Bed Bath & Beyond College Order, we were set to pick up our items across the country move-in weekend. The finish line was near. And then it wasn’t.
A peer (also up to her eyeballs in college prep) relayed a parental nightmare about a friend’s son who was hospitalized out-of-state during college. The parents couldn’t get any information for several days about his condition because he was 18. She asked me if I’d had my daughter sign releases in case of an emergency at school. Um, no. That hadn’t made it on the list.
When she turned 18 a few months prior, my attention was on the “Adult” All-Access Pass she now had to vote, get her ears double pierced without mom present, purchase a lottery ticket and skydive. She signed away her rights (pictured here and posted with permission) and jumped out of a plane on her actual birthday. I guess that had me a little distracted.
The Issues at 18
I hadn’t considered that parents wanting access to information on an adult child’s health, finances or college grades need permission in writing. I guess it’s not surprising it wasn’t top of mind; the word “adult” isn’t usually on the top ten words used to describe your teen.
Despite having spent my entire career in Benefits and Risk Management, the federal privacy law (HIPAA) that bars parents from getting information about their children once they reach their 18th birthday wasn’t even on my radar. This is true even if they are on your insurance, you are paying their college tuition or they are living in your basement.
This happened to surface for us during the college process. However, it's a conversation all parents or guardians should be having with their 18-year-olds, even if they're not yet leaving home. It’s appropriate that young adults have privacy, but the ramifications of “complete privacy” should be made clear. There are ways to put some boundaries around the circumstances under which information is shared.
...a conversation all parents or guardians should be having with their 18-year-olds, even if they're not yet leaving home.
I never saw any prompts on this issue from the high school, college, or numerous blogs I read about the transition to college. Subsequently, I found a few articles from Forbes and The Wall Street Journal. Once you start asking around you’ll hear horror stories of parents unable to get information about an adult child in a coma from a spider bite or in the midst of a mental healthcare crisis. This is so important. Having a young adult sign key legal documents also enables parents to make healthcare decisions in extreme circumstances.
An Easy Solution
Our priority as a family were healthcare related events; she’s on her own with the Finances and College Grades. I only did a bit of hand-wringing before I remembered that I had access to Rocket Lawyer Legal Benefits. This is a well-established global, SaaS-based legal platform that allowed me to draft the following for my daughter:
You can create, eSign, share, print or save to the cloud. There are 1,000 personalized legal documents for every life milestone. It was simple as a user and I know it’s simple to implement as an employer - no open enrollment, no integration, no transfer of employee data.
As I went to complete the documents, I wasn’t sure if I needed to worry about the fact that we lived in California but she’d be going to school in New York. I used the online access and an attorney got back to me within an hour reassuring me that I was in good shape with how it was structured. The college launch “to-do” list was complete.
I’ve been thinking about how our industry could better serve our collective customers and their employees. Can we expand our traditional approach that has employee “communications” so centered on Onboarding and Annual Open Enrollment? Let’s serve up custom prompts year-round when certain life milestones occur for employees. I love it when Amazon and Netflix anticipate my needs. Imagine an alert prior to her birthday from within the Benefits ecosystem that pointed out this “age 18” issue. Things to consider as an employee or their dependent approaches age 65 is another example I’m thinking about; we’ll tackle that in a future post.
Imagine an alert prior to her birthday from within the Benefits ecosystem that pointed out this “age 18” issue.
It might be worth mentioning that I’m a satisfied Rocket Lawyer (and Bed Bath & Beyond) customer which is why I chose to share my experience in conjunction with highlighting this potential gap for families. While I want to be influential, @BenefitsLady is not a paid Kardashian-style influencer.
There are many ways to obtain these documents online or with a personal attorney. Check with your Benefits Department to see if there are resources available at your workplace. Contact Rocket Lawyer if you are interested in learning about their free trial - [email protected].
So no family finds themselves in an unnecessary dilemma in the midst of a healthcare crisis, please join me in educating others: Like, comment or share this article and/or this topic with friends, clients and colleagues.
Final Note: There’s nothing special about Labor Day as a deadline, by the way. I put that in the headline because without a due date, we tend to let things like these go undone. While you’re at it, make sure your own affairs are in order too. Consider it a nudge from @BenefitsLady.