Preparing to send your son or daughter to college is one of the most exciting, and nervous times for a parent. You’ll worry whether they will eat well, study enough, and get enough rest. While you can’t help these everyday concerns, you can prepare for the major ones: if your son or daughter has a medical or financial emergency while away at school. Although you may still be paying the bills, the laws of parenting change completely once your child turns 18. They may still be financially dependent on you, but they are an adult in the eyes of the law.

One of the laws that now affects your child is called HIPAA. This is a federal law that protects the privacy of patients. While that’s usually a good thing, it could be detrimental for you and your family if your child is hospitalized while at school. That’s because in this situation, “protecting” your child’s privacy actually means preventing their doctor from sharing information with you.

As a parent of college aged young adults, I was surprised to find out that as a parent I am no longer able to automatically make medical or financial decisions on behalf of my child.  Similarly, I am not privy to medical information about my child. This can be quite a shock. Once your child turns 18, it is illegal for a doctor to discuss their medical conditions with you—even during a life-threatening emergency.  

A Power of Attorney, a Medical Power of Attorney and a HIPAA Disclosure Authorization will allow you to continue to be a parent to your young adult.

These issues can arise in a variety of ways.  Assume your child is in an accident while at school.  Without a HIPAA Disclosure Authorization, the parents likely cannot obtain information about their child’s medical condition.  Similarly, without a medical power of attorney, the parents may be forced to spend time and money on a court proceeding to be named guardians in order to make decisions for their incapacitated child. 

Another instance where issues can arise is if the child travels overseas on a study abroad trip and has issues with his or her credit card being use in a foreign country.  A financial power of attorney would allow the parents to step in and deal with any issues on the child’s behalf.

Power of Attorney  

A power of attorney allows the signor (the college student) to appoint an agent to act on his or her behalf with regard to financial affairs.  The power of attorney may be general (meaning that the POA becomes effective immediately upon signing) or springing (which means that the POA is not effective until a future event or date–usually the event that the signor is declared incapacitated by a doctor).  This document allows an appointed agent to do things like pay bills, manage bank accounts, and deal with real estate issues.  The form allows the person executing the POA to include limitations on the powers of the agent or to provide additional specific instructions.  The financial power of attorney must be signed before a notary.

Medical Power of Attorney  

A medical power of attorney allows an adult (the college student) to appoint an agent to make medical decisions in the event the signor is unable to make those decisions for himself or herself.  The form can become effective immediately, but more often is written to become effective only when the signor is deemed incapacitated by a physician.  Like the power of attorney, Texas offers a form that merely requires the student filling in the blanks and properly executing with either witnesses or a notary.

HIPAA Disclosure Authorization 

The “Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” signed in 1996 was designed the protect a person’s private healthcare information from disclosure.  Generally, this is a positive, but it can be problematic in the event that an adult child is incapacitated and the parents are unable to obtain information about the care or condition of their loved one.  A simple form can help alleviate this issue.  The Texas Attorney General’s Office has published a form that may be used to authorize the disclosure of medical information to certain persons. The signor may indicate which types of information are allowed to be disclosed to identified individuals and which may not be disclosed. This form need only be signed by the individual and does not require a notary or witnesses.

Once executed, copies of these documents should be kept by the signor, appointed agents, and any health care professionals seen by the signor.  Usually, for college students, a copy should be kept by the student, parents, and primary care physician.

Hopefully, these documents will never be needed, but it is certainly better safe than sorry.

These important documents will ensure that if your child is hospitalized, you will not be left out not knowing what is going on. Your child’s doctor will be able to talk with you and you’ll be able to make decisions on what type of treatment should be provided.

If you would like to take some time to find out how our firm can help you  and your college student be prepared for the upcoming school semester, contact us today to discuss further by calling 956-791-5422 in Laredo,  830-302-4577 in New Braunfels or 956-267-5112 in the Rio Grande Valley. We are here to help.

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