Which legal documents should be on my child’s checklist as we pack for college?

Parents naturally want the best for their children at every stage of their lives.  The transition to college is an especially important time in life.  A significant amount of planning and resources are spent with the college selection process and the “big” decision. 

Getting ready for freshman move-in involves even more coordination and lots of “college checklists”. Yes, college swag, bed sheets, towels, and cleaning supplies are essentials, however, the ultimate college packing list includes legal documentation that provides a parent with the ability to receive information and act in the case of an emergency related to their child.

Under the law, on a teenager’s 18th birthday, he or she achieves adult status. This status comes with a host of legal implications regarding a parent’s ability to receive information and make decisions regarding their adult child. Only if the proper documents are fully executed, can a parent speak with healthcare providers and help make healthcare decisions for their teenager.

Once a child turns eighteen, the privacy of the adolescent’s personal health information is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA. Thus, health care providers are not legally permitted to divulge the adolescent’s medical records or discuss potential treatment options with parents, even if the young adult remains on their parent’s health insurance plan.

To protect a parent’s ability to access to their adolescent’s records and speak with their health care providers, an Advance Health Care Directive (otherwise known as Healthcare Power of Attorney) and a General Durable Power of Attorney should be drafted and executed.

Prepared parents have an Advance Health Care Directive drafted once their children reach the age of majority, especially if they are leaving home and college bound. An Advance Health Care Directive authorizes a parent to make medical decisions on their teenager’s behalf and provides a parent with access to their teenager’s medical records. Once executed, an Advance Health Care Directive provides a parent with the ability to directly communicate with their teenager’s medical health care providers. If properly drafted, the Advance Health Care Directive would also appoint the parent to act on behalf of their teenager in making medical decisions, should their adult child be unable to make the decision individually. Alternatively, a HIPAA release would serve a parent in the case of an emergency of their adult child. A HIPPAA release is a more limited document than an Advance Health Care Directive, as it merely permits healthcare providers to disclose an adult child’s healthcare information to a parent. It is important to note that a HIPPAA release does not permit a parent to take action with regard to their adult child’s medical needs in the case of an emergency.

Furthermore, the importance of a General Durable Power of Attorney (POA) should not be overlooked. A POA permits the designated agent (in this instance a parent) to make financial decisions on their adult child’s behalf. If drafted as such, a designated agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, collect debts, and manage property on behalf of their child. The POA can be drafted to invoke the rights of the agent immediately or upon incapacitation.

It is understandable for parents to feel a lack of urgency when it comes to estate planning in relation to their young, healthy children.  However, setting up a proper estate plan, which includes planning for your children when they reach the age of majority, is an important and vital step for families to consider. The experienced estate planning attorneys at Lyons & Associates, P.C. will ensure that the best interests of you and your children are protected.