Each year, hundreds of thousands of incoming freshman leave their parents’ nest and get their first taste of independent life as an adult. For most students, the experience is nothing short of a dream come true while for others weekend trips home may be the only way to keep their sanity. Regardless of how long it takes a new college student to get comfortable in his or her new way of life, one thing is certain- and it is something that many parents do not fully grasp: When a child moves away from home to begin this exciting chapter of life, he or she is not only leaving the comforts of home but also the protections that parents offer until the age of 18. By “comforts” and “protections” I mean much more than having someone who does your cooking or laundry. Under the law, when your child turns 18 he or she is an adult under the law, which means that a parent’s right’s in controlling some affairs of that child become significantly diminished. Among these diminished rights are the (1) the right to make healthcare decisions on behalf of the child, and (2) the right to act on the child’s behalf in financial transactions.
In the event the child is hospitalized, medical personnel have no obligation to follow anyone’s wishes regarding treatment or consent except for the patient’s, and medical records are going to remain sealed from view absent a court order directing otherwise. In the event of a serious accident or illness that leaves the child unable to determine his or her own course of treatment or who can make those decisions on his or her behalf, a doctor’s hands are going to be tied, which will lead to a court’s intervention in order to make important decisions.
Further, institutions such as banks, utility providers or even landlords typically will not permit an individual that is not named on an account to access its funds or information. This means that if a child is in the hospital for an extended period of time unable to act on his own behalf, the financial repercussions of failing to do things such as pay bills in a timely fashion can be long-lasting in the form of bad credit and collections.
So how do parents prepare and plan for these unthinkable situations in which decisions regarding the child’s healthcare and financial transactions must be handled? The answer is PROPER ESTATE PLANNING. Below are a few documents that your college-bound child should not leave the nest without.
Advanced Directive for Health Care
A living will is a directive that instructs family members and medical professionals on which end-of-life procedures you want done (for example, instructions on when you want to be kept on or removed from life support). A medical power of attorney (also known as a health care power of attorney) is a legal document in which you are able to appoint someone to make decisions regarding your health care in the event that you become incapacitated. Advanced directives for healthcare are often useful to designate a medical power of attorney in conjunction with a living will to form this document in order to ensure that you will have someone advocating for the directives you have spelled out in writing. In addition to those directives spelled out in writing, an advanced directive for health care can also allow you to appoint someone to make decisions regarding your health care that isn’t spelled out in writing.
HIPPA Release Form
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that sets rules for health care providers and health plans about who can look at and receive your health information, including family members and friends. You know those forms every health care provider makes us sign when we receive any type of medical care? The one that typically allows the doctor to release information to our health insurer? That is a HIPAA form.
A signed HIPAA authorization is like a permission slip. It permits healthcare providers to disclose your health information to anyone you specify. A stand-alone HIPAA authorization (not incorporated into a broader legal document) does not have to be notarized or witnessed. Young people who want parents to be involved in a medical emergency, but fear disclosure of sensitive information, need not worry; HIPAA authorization does not have to be all-encompassing. The young adults can stipulate not to disclose information about sex, drugs, mental health, or other details they might want to keep private.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances and Property
The durable power of attorney for finances and property functions the same as the durable power of attorney for healthcare; but it addresses powers related to non-medical actions such as those related to finances and property management and transactions. With a valid durable power of attorney for finances and property an agent should be able to access the principal’s bank accounts and financial records, pay rent, utilities and credit card bills, manage investments and loans and so on.
Important to note as well is the ability to structure the powers of attorney to limit the agent’s ability to take action until the principal is deemed incapacitated so the principal is the only party able to act on his behalf unless or until something happens.