As we approach that time of year when fresh high school graduates are joyfully celebrating their achievements, many families find themselves preparing for the next milestone: their child’s departure for college. While it is indeed an optimistic and thrilling period, it can also evoke mixed emotions and concerns for parents. We naturally fret about our children’s safety, well-being, and their ability to adapt to newfound freedom and responsibilities as a college student. However, proactively establishing four essential documents before they leave home can give you more peace of mind. Read on to learn more.
Why These Documents Are Important
Before we discuss the specific documents below, I want to be clear about why they matter. Parenthood is a lifelong journey that transcends age limits. Despite this, it is important to recognize that when our children reach the age of 18, they are considered legal adults. While we have always embraced the role of protectors and decision-makers for our children, the attainment of adulthood comes with a shift in our rights. Although we may have complete faith in their ability to make independent choices, an unexpected emergency situation can present a challenge, especially during the college years.
You are likely familiar with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which is about health information privacy. It sets guidelines for medical providers regarding the disclosure of patient information. While there are provisions for medical professionals to exercise judgment during emergencies, they may hesitate to do so if they lack an established relationship with the patient or their family – a common occurrence when your child is away at college.
While the majority of college students never encounter a medical emergency, it can be comforting to take proactive measures. The presence of HIPAA regulations means that in the event your child requires immediate hospitalization, you will not have immediate access to their medical records, nor will you possess the authority to make medical decisions on their behalf. Without the appropriate documentation in place, healthcare providers are bound by law and unable to disclose your adult child’s information, even if they genuinely want to assist you.
By understanding the implications of these circumstances and taking preemptive action, you can navigate potential challenges with greater peace of mind.
Four Documents to Help You and Your Child Prepare for College
To ensure that you maintain access to vital health information and have the ability to make informed decisions in the best interest of your child, whether they are in college or facing any other emergency situation, it is crucial to have the following essential documents in place:
1. Medical Power of Attorney
To ensure you have the necessary authority to make medical decisions on behalf of your child if they become incapacitated, it is essential to establish a Medical Power of Attorney, also known as a healthcare proxy. This legally binding document grants you the role of an “agent” with the authority to act on your child’s behalf when they are unable to make medical decisions themselves.
The American Bar Association offers a comprehensive Health Care Advanced Planning Toolkit, which includes a Medical Power of Attorney form that can be of great assistance. Alternatively, you can consult an estate planning attorney to have a customized document created. It’s important to note that the specific regulations governing Medical Power of Attorney vary from state to state, and certain states may require two witnesses who are not related to the family or the involvement of a notary public. Additionally, your child’s college may have their own form available for this purpose.
2. HIPAA Authorization
In many cases, a Medical Power of Attorney (POA) form encompasses a HIPAA authorization clause. However, if your specific form lacks this provision, it is crucial to acquire a separate HIPAA authorization form before your child departs for college. This legally binding document enables healthcare providers to share pertinent information regarding your child’s health with you. It’s important to recognize that these authorizations can also safeguard your child’s privacy. For instance, your son or daughter may prefer not to disclose details about sensitive topics such as sex, drugs, mental health, or other personal matters they wish to keep confidential. Nonetheless, the authorization form can still grant you access to such information in emergency situations if your child desires you to be informed.
3. Durable Power of Attorney
By obtaining this type of Power of Attorney (POA), you, as a parent, are granted the authority to serve as your child’s “attorney-in-fact” or “agent,” extending beyond the realm of medical incapacitation. This comprehensive POA empowers you to legally handle various aspects of your child’s affairs, such as engaging in contractual agreements and accessing their bank accounts. This becomes particularly significant if you need to address financial responsibilities, such as paying your child’s bills or managing their financial activities, during a period of their incapacitation.
4. FERPA Release
Another acronym you might be familiar with is FERPA, which stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. This legislation was enacted to safeguard the confidentiality of a student’s educational records. Under this law, parents are generally restricted from accessing their child’s grades or transcripts. However, there is an option for your child to sign a release, granting their college permission to disclose educational records to you without requiring prior consent.
While this documentation may not directly pertain to emergency medical situations, it can prove valuable if a student’s injury or illness significantly affects their academic performance and necessitates your communication with university staff on their behalf. Additionally, for parents who are financially supporting their child’s education, knowing their academic progress may hold importance.
A Note on Financial Literacy
While it is helpful to have the above documents in place for emergency scenarios during your child’s college years, it’s important to remember that they will also encounter numerous minor challenges during this transitional phase. Developing financial literacy becomes equally significant, and these resources can facilitate open communication between you and your child about money matters while equipping them with strategies for making sound financial choices.
If you would like to delve deeper into any of the topics discussed in this article or explore other financial planning concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us to schedule a conversation. At Resolute, we believe it’s important to help our clients feel informed and empowered. If you’d like to learn more about how we can serve you, please reach out today!