Preparing for College: It’s More Than Textbooks and Dorm Room Furniture

When a child turns 18, a world of responsibility opens up for them, whether they are ready for it or not. An 18 year old has the ability to make their own health and financial decisions without any involvement from their parents. In fact, Federal HIPAA laws prohibit doctors from releasing information to anyone without express authorization from the patient, including the parents if the child is over 18 years old. So, what happens to your child when he or she moves hundreds of miles away to attend college? Imagine the stress you would experience if your child had a medical emergency that left them incapable of making their own medical or financial decisions. You can avoid this stress by planning in advance and having your child execute the following documents prior to moving away to school.

Living Will

A living will specifies the type of medical treatment a person does or does not want to receive. Without a living will, an incapacitated person cannot communicate the treatment they do or do not want. This leaves parents to guess the type of treatment their child would want. The most common issue to be addressed in a living will is whether the patient wants to accept or refuse life prolonging treatments (e.g., feeding tubes, ventilators, respirators, etc.).

Medical Power of Attorney

In a medical power of attorney, your child will designate a trusted individual to make medical decisions in the event that they are unable to do so themselves. The person designated (the “Agent”) will be instructed to follow your child’s wishes as stated in the living will or medical power of attorney, but if your child’s wishes are unknown, then the Agent is instructed to make decisions based upon what is believed to be the best interests of your child. These decisions include the right to consent or refuse life prolonging procedures, request information regarding your child’s health, and hire and fire health care professionals.

HIPAA Authorization

In 1996, the United States Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPPA limits the use, disclosure, or release of individually identifiable health information. By executing a HIPPA Authorization, the patient authorizes health care providers to release medical information (e.g., medical records, diagnosis, condition, treatment, and prognosis) to named individuals. Without the proper documentation, it may be difficult to obtain information regarding your child’s medical condition.

General Durable Power of Attorney

In a general durable power of attorney, your child will designate an agent to act on his/her behalf to manage their financial affairs in the event of their incapacity. Often, the agent is given broad authority to manage finances such as the ability to pay bills and other expenses such as tuition or rent, purchase or sell assets, open bank accounts and/or withdraw funds from bank accounts, and borrow money (e.g., student loans).

There are many situations where the above-mentioned documents are needed beyond the examples we’ve given. However, most people fail to have these documents prepared in advance and when an emergency occurs, they are unprepared. To avoid a situation where you and your child are unprepared, consult with an attorney to determine exactly what documents are necessary for your child before he or she goes off to college.