The summer before my oldest went off to college, we all went for an orientation weekend. While there, he went off and did his thing and my wife and I went off and did ours. In one of our parent orientation seminars we were reminded that, now that he is 18, he is officially an “adult” in the eyes of the law. We, as parents, would no longer have the automatic legal right to make his healthcare decisions, have access to his healthcare records in an emergency, or be included in any of his financial decisions. Who was paying their enormous bill was irrelevant. His life became private and confidential.
Amid the hustle and bustle of getting your kids off to college, it is easy to forget that you need to make sure they have signed a healthcare proxy and a HIPAA authorization form. (HIPAA is the federal law which prohibits physicians and hospitals from disclosing confidential medical records to anyone other than the patient, unless the patient has expressly authorized another person to have access to his records.) The consequences of forgetting these simple forms can be tragic. If something should happen to your child while at college (such as an injury or illness), you do not want to be told by some doctor or hospital employee in a far-off state that they cannot even talk with you about your child’s medical status.
This is especially true when the potential harm is so easily prevented. With a healthcare proxy, your child signs a document appointing you as their healthcare agent, who will be authorized to make healthcare decisions for them if they ever become unable to make their own decisions. In addition, your child can leave a living will, in which they can specify what kind of end-of-life medical treatments they want (or do not want).
With a HIPAA authorization, your child simply names the person or persons to whom medical personnel may release his or her medical information. This includes the person named as their healthcare agent, but may include others, such as siblings.
Lastly, your child should sign a Durable Power of Attorney. Just because you’re the one actually paying the school’s tuition does not automatically allow you to see his financial records. A Power of Attorney naming you as the Agent will allow you access to his bank accounts, along with his school loans and other financial documents. A Power of Attorney is a bit different from a Healthcare Proxy in the fact that you are given the power immediately after it is signed and you keep the power even if your child becomes incapacitated.
A few years later, my daughter’s college has actually made this a bit easier. They have a form that they give to all incoming students where the student can name who is allowed to talk to the Bursar and Financial Aid Office. Unfortunately, that still can leave you with a problem should you need to speak with a bank regarding your child’s loans.
These documents may seem trivial and typically are not looked at on the same level as a Last Will and Testament, but they should be. Actually, for a young adult with not a lot of “stuff” or assets, these documents can be more important, as they can have an immediate impact on a potentially critical situation.