It’s that time of year when new high school graduates are celebrating, and many are preparing to move away to college. It can be a very hopeful and exciting time, but it’s also bittersweet – and sometimes downright worrisome – for parents. I remember what it felt like when my daughter Maddy went off to college. (She successfully graduated in May of 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. However, getting four documents in place before she left home gave me considerable peace of mind, and I want to share those with you.
First: Why These Documents Matter
We don’t just stop feeling like parents once our children turn 18, do we? Yet, this is the age when they become adults in the eyes of the law. This means that although we have always seen ourselves as the protectors and decision-makers for our children, we lose some of our rights once they come of age. We may fully trust them to make their own decisions, but this can pose a challenge in the case of an emergency scenario (during college or otherwise).
You’re probably familiar with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It 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 – which can easily be the case if your child is away at college.
The vast majority of students never experience a medical emergency at college, but it can give you peace of mind to prepare for such a situation anyway. HIPAA regulations mean that, if your child is rushed to the hospital, you will not have immediate access to their medical information, nor will you have the ability to make medical decisions for them. Without specific documentation, a medical provider is prohibited by law from disclosing your adult child’s information to you. Their hands will be tied even if they wish to help you.
College Prep for Parents: Get These Documents in Place
If you want to be sure you’ll have access to information about your child’s health in an emergency situation during college or otherwise, and you want to be able to make decisions in their best interest, here are the documents you’ll need:
Medical or Health Care Power of Attorney (POA)
A Medical Power of Attorney, sometimes also called a healthcare proxy, 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. The American Bar Association offers a very useful Health Care Advanced Planning Toolkit that includes a POA form. You can also have one prepared by an estate planning 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.
Oftentimes, a Medical POA form also includes a specific HIPAA authorization. If yours does not, it will be vital to obtain a separate HIPAA authorization form before your child leaves for college. This is the legal document that allows healthcare providers to give you information on your child’s health. Note that these authorizations can include privacy protection for children, too. For example, your son or daughter may not wish to disclose information about sex, drugs, mental health, or other details that they may, rightfully, wish to keep confidential. Fortunately, the authorization form can 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 type of POA authorizes you as the parent to act as your child’s “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” beyond the scope of medical incapacitation. It allows you to legally manage a broad range of businesses on your child’s behalf, including entering into legal contracts and accessing bank accounts. This will be important if you need to pay your child’s bills or manage other financial activity on their behalf while they are incapacitated.
FERPA is another acronym you may already be familiar with, and it stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. It was passed to protect the privacy of a student’s education records. This law prohibits parents from accessing a child’s grades or transcripts. However, by signing a release, your child can choose to allow their college to disclose education records to you without prior consent.
This documentation may not be directly related to an emergency medical situation, but it can be beneficial in cases where a student’s injury or illness impacts their school performance and you’re communicating with university personnel on their behalf. Also, for some parents who are paying tuition, it may feel important to know exactly how their child is performing in school.
Additional Thoughts on Preparing Your Student for College: Financial Literacy
The documents discussed above can offer protection in emergency situations while your child is away at college, and I strongly recommend having them in place. However, keep in mind that your child will face many challenges navigating this new phase of life in college. Financial literacy is important and these resources can help you and your child communicate about money and learn strategies for making smart financial decisions.
If you’d like to further discuss any of the topics mentioned in this article or another financial planning matter, please reach out to schedule a conversation. At Flourish, we want you to feel educated, encouraged, and empowered on your financial journey. We look forward to hearing from you!