Healthcare Power of Attorney MUST Be on Your College Checklist

College student with healthcare power of attorney discusses health issues with physicians

Do You Have Healthcare and Financial Powers of Attorney for Your College Student?

If you are one of the many parents making preparations to send a son or daughter off to college in the next few weeks, you probably have a list of must-haves and must-dos that you have been diligently checking off as you go. Registered for orientation? Check. Laptop computer? Check. Immunizations? Check. Cool dorm room stuff? Check. Healthcare Power of Attorney for your college student? Hmm…no.

Parents often understand the importance of having a healthcare power of attorney in place for their spouse or for their aging parents, but have never considered how crucial this document is when it comes to caring for their recent high school graduate or young-adult child.

Once your “child” reaches the age of 18, he or she is no longer a child, but a legal adult with all of the rights to privacy of a legal adult. This includes the right to medical privacy under HIPPA. Parents who have been scheduling appointments, receiving test results and making virtually all healthcare decisions for their child for the past 18 years, suddenly find that they are no longer privy to receiving that child’s healthcare information. This is true even if your child is still on your medical insurance and even if you are paying the bill.

Typically, this situation comes to light when a child goes off to college or moves away from home to start their first job and has a medical issue. Parents quickly learn that getting access to their child’s medical information and his or her current medical condition can be challenging, frustrating and perhaps scary. This is especially true in healthcare organizations today, where medical staff have been trained to fear legal action for releasing information to someone without the authority to receive it. Simply put, if your young-adult child is not able to give permission for the nurse or doctor to release information to you, then that information will not be released.

The easy way to avoid this situation is with a healthcare power of attorney. In this legal document, your child can appoint you as an agent to make their healthcare decisions if at any time he or she is unable to make those decisions. By appointing you as an agent, the healthcare power of attorney also gives you the right to obtain medical information about your child.

In addition to a healthcare power of attorney, you may also consider discussing the benefits of a financial power of attorney, also called a durable power of attorney, with your child. This document gives you, as the agent, the authority to make financial decisions (manage bank accounts, sign tax returns) on your son or daughter’s behalf in the event that he or she is unable to do so… due to incapacity or perhaps, due to simply traveling abroad. It serves also as a convenient way for you to prudently assist with their finances as they mature through adulthood.

Each state has different laws governing healthcare and financial powers of attorney and also different forms. It’s a good idea to consult an estate planning attorney for advice in your particular circumstance. But, most importantly, plan ahead for this situation and do not procrastinate. Signing powers of attorney is a must-do on the college checklist. It will save you vast amounts of unnecessary stress when your young-adult child needs medical attention or requires assistance in managing finances.

Chuck Hadad leads the Estates and Trusts team at The Lynch Law Group. Please contact him at (724)776-8000 or for more information on powers of attorney or other estate planning matters.
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