With the month of August upon us, parents around the country are participating in the time-honored tradition of preparing their young adult children to go away to college. While it’s certainly important to ensure that they have the necessary clothing, bed linens, and other such items, it is also important to have certain legal documents in place to permit someone to make decisions and access information in the event of an emergency.
While every parent knows that a child becomes a legal adult upon turning 18, most parents fail to appreciate the full extent of the consequences. In particular, once a child turns 18, not only do parents no longer have the legal authority to make financial or medical decisions on that child’s behalf (even in emergencies), they also no longer have the legal right to access that child’s medical, financial, or educational information. This means that, without prior planning, not only would parents be unable to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of their child in the event of an emergency, they might not even be permitted to know the details of what happened or the nature of their child’s situation.
It is therefore incredibly important for college-aged children to have the following documents in place to allow decisions to be made (and information to be accessed) in the event of an emergency:
1. Durable Power of Attorney: This document designates one or more people to act on the child’s behalf regarding finances and assets (e.g., bank accounts, credit cards, student loans, etc.).
2. Health Care Proxy: This document designates someone to make medical and health care decisions on the child’s behalf if the child is unable to make such decisions.
3. HIPAA Authorization: This document authorizes the child’s health care providers to discuss the child’s protected health care information with the people named in the document. Unlike the Health Care Proxy, the HIPAA Authorization does not confer any decision-making authority on the people named in it.
4. FERPA Authorization: This document authorizes the child’s college or university to disclose the child’s protected financial and academic records to the people named in the document. As with the HIPAA Authorization, this document does not confer decision-making authority on the people named in it.
We encourage all of our clients with college-aged children to discuss these matters with their children and to contact our office if your child is interested in having these documents prepared.