Preparing to send a child off to college is an action packed marathon. Starting with summer grad parties, last minute doctor visits for vaccines, hiccups like forgetting to register for parent orientation, to numerous trips to Ikea, the months leading up to the first day of class are filled with a seemingly endless to-do list. When you drop your child off at a newly decorated and well-stocked dorm room, you’ll ask yourself, “Did we get everything we need?” or “Is there something I forgot?” If you are like most parents, the answer is simple – Yes. Your college freshman is now a newly minted legal adult. An adult who – brace yourself – needs to have legal documents in place.As your child goes off to college it is inevitable that they will encounter some sticky situations. From personal experience, many of us remember that the road to adulthood can be a bumpy one. The time to prepare for these unanticipated situations is now – while your child is still home and while both students and parents can work together to craft a quality legal plan. Parents and students need to be well-informed of what powers these documents provide as well as what situations require their use.
Contrary to what you might assume, implementing a legal plan is a rather simple process. There are basic documents that every adult needs, including your brand new adult. Documents to consider for your student include a Power of Attorney, a Medical Directive, and a Medical Release. Below is an explanation of what these documents are and why your student needs them.
1) Durable Power of Attorney
Simply stated, a Power of Attorney is a legal document that grants an appointed person (your attorney-in-fact) the power to make financial decisions on your behalf. This is the document your child needs if he or she wants your assistance handling things like bank accounts, car insurance, title to a car, cell phone bill, and other finance related situations that require his or her signature. While many teenagers have years of experience managing their own bank accounts, navigating their way through the usual collegiate financial requirements like bursar’s office deadlines, undergraduate loans, student meal plans, and budgeting are a higher level of finance management. Additionally, having a Durable Power of Attorney in place allows you to oversee things left at home such as renewing vehicle tags, and making deposits at local bank accounts.
Having a full course-load is a job in itself resulting in college kids eagerly handing off some of the non-academic responsibilities to experienced parents.
2) Medical Directive
An Advance Medical Directive allows for a pre-selected Patient Advocate to make decisions over your medical and mental health care once you are no longer able to communicate those decisions yourself. It also provides what specific actions be taken in particular medical situations. If your child becomes ill, is admitted to a hospital, is injured in an accident, or is having mental health issues that make them unable to understand or communicate their health care wishes, having a Medical Directive in place allows the Patient Advocate to have the legal authority of giving the doctors direction regarding their care. Additionally, if provides the Patient Advocate the ability to hire and fire medical professionals and choose hospitals and facilities. Parents do not have automatic authority over their adult children even if they are full-time students who are financially dependent on those parents.
Without a signed Medical Directive in place, the only way for someone to have this authority is to seek a guardianship through the Courts. The last place you want to be if your child is having a medical crisis is in a lawyer’s office.
3) HIPAA Release
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) provides privacy provisions to safeguard your medical information. What this means is that your doctor is prohibited from releasing your medical information to anyone – including family members – without a release. A HIPAA release allows patients to authorize their health provider to disclose information to a third party of their choosing (the agent). The Act applies to health care plans, as well, meaning that your child’s health insurance company is prohibited from discussing all aspects of coverage, including billing, with anyone but the patient. If your child is over 18, still on your health insurance, and you call the insurance company with questions about co-pays and coverage, you will need a release in place in order to do so. Unfortunately, “But the policy is in MY name!” is not a legal loophole to around privacy regulations.
If you have a child going off to college this year – having these simple, yet, effective documents prepared in advance not only makes sense but can provide a sense of assurance and peace of mind.