When it comes to getting your kids ready for college it can seem like there are a million things to do, think of, and prepare. I remember I was a wreck when my daughter Maddy went off to college (She successfully graduated May 2019). I had my concerns about her safety, her well-being, her ability to create her own structure with all that freedom, and all the other concerns that come with being the parent of a young adult. Maddy, on the other hand, was excited to begin this new chapter of her life. The furthest thing from her mind was worst-case scenarios and creating a plan for the what-ifs of adulthood.
This can be a hectic and bittersweet time and it is easy to overlook some very important items every young adult should have with them when they go off to college. While the curtains and the rug and the mini-fridge all have their place in planning for college life, so too does preparing documents that will protect you as a parent and them as an adult in the event of an emergency.
As parents who have always been the protector and the decision-maker for our children, it can be easy to forget that, once a child turns 18, in the eyes of the law your child is an adult. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits medical providers from disclosing information not explicitly authorized by the patient. Although there is some wiggle room for medical providers to use their discretion in the event of an emergency, they may be reluctant to do so if they do not have an existing relationship with the patient or with their family.
What this means is that heaven forbid your child is rushed to the hospital, you will not have immediate access to your child’s medical information, nor will you have the ability to make medical decisions on their behalf. Without specific documentation, a medical provider is prohibited by law from disclosing your adult child’s information to you.
The following steps should be taken in advance to continue your legal authority in the event of an emergency. These forms are obtainable online or can be prepared for you by an attorney.
Medical or Health Care Power of Attorney (“POA”)
Also known as a Health Care Proxy, a Medical Power of Attorney is signed by your child and it authorizes you to be an “agent” and make medical decisions on their behalf in case they are unable to make decisions for themselves. A good POA form should include a HIPAA disclosure authorization. The American Bar Association has a very useful Health Care Advanced Planning Toolkit which includes a POA form or you can have one prepared by an estate attorney. The laws governing Medical POAs vary from state to state and some states require two non-related witnesses or a notary public. In some cases, your child’s college may have a form as well.
If your Medical POA does not include a HIPAA authorization it will be vital to prepare this form as well. HIPAA authorizations allow health-care providers to give you information on your child’s health. These authorizations can include protections for children who do not wish to disclose information about sex, drugs, mental health or other details that they may, rightfully, wish to keep confidential. Fortunately, they will still give you disclosure rights in the event of an emergency if your child wants you to be privy to that information.
Durable Power of Attorney (“POA”)
This legal document authorizes you as the parent to act as your child’s “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” beyond the scope of medical incapacitation. It allows the agent to legally take care of business on the child’s behalf which includes broad powers including entering into legal contracts and accessing bank accounts.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 was passed to protect the privacy of a student’s education records. This law prohibits parents from accessing a child’s grades or transcripts. By signing a release your child would allow their school to disclose education records to you without prior consent. For some parents who are paying tuition, it is important for them to know exactly how their child is performing in school. For others, this may be a bit extreme and the honor system could do just fine.
Saving your documents in a secure, electronic place where they are accessible via a smartphone or a computer is a safe bet. Original forms should be kept in a secure file for important documents.
While you are putting the finishing touches on this new and exciting endeavor your child is about to make, take some time to prepare these documents yourself or with the assistance of an estate attorney. You will be glad you did.