Don't Drop Off Your College Student Without These Documents - The Estate Planning Documents Every College Student's Parenta Should Make Sure Thier Child Has Before Leaving For College
It sounds like the start of every parent's nightmare - you get back late a night from dropping your child off at college several hundred, or several thousand miles away. As you get ready to turn into bed the phone rings, your child’s new roommate is on the phone. They tell you child child has just been rushed to the local hospital and give you the number for the emergency room. But when you call, the attendant refuses to give you any information about your child. Immediately, your thoughts begin to race: Will they be OK? What is wrong? If my child is unconscious who is making their medical decisions? How can I find out their status?
The risk that your college student will be hospitalized or otherwise require emergency medical attention at some point in their college experience is, unfortunately, real. Accidental injuries are the leading cause of death among college students and the broader 18-24 year old population (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4535338/). According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism researchers estimate that each year 1825 college age students are killed in alcohol related unintentional incidents and over 600,000 students between 18 and 24 are assaulted by someone who has been drinking (https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/CollegeFactSheet/Collegefactsheet.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwiHysS6lIjdAhUDhOAKHQmwDOgQFjAJegQIARAB&usg=AOvVaw1pKdki_szVZnruSXkhL8rW&cshid=1535198796236).
Once your child turns 18, the law says they are strangers to you. You have no more right to information about their healthcare than you do your neighbor’s down the street. This is true even if you are paying the bill and you claim them as a dependent on your taxes or if they are covered under your insurance.
Under HIPAA, medical providers do have the option to choose to disclose medical information about a family member, even without a patient's authorization, if, in their professional judgment it serves the best interest of the patient. But many state laws place additional limitations on a providers ability to do this, and many providers, including hospitals and emergency rooms have formal policies against making disclosures about anyone over legal age without a written authorization or healthcare power of attorney.
How to guarantee you’ll have access to information about your child.
Parents and their college-age children are often surprised that they need to take steps to make sure that they can continue to have access to the sort of information they assume all parents should have about their children.
While the law says college age students are adults separate from their parent’s authority or decision making, most entering college freshmen, view things a little differently, particularly in an emergency. Indeed, most college student want their parents to have access to information about them in an emergency, and to be the emergency decision makers if they are incapacitated. In order to make sure this desire is carried out, they need to sign a durable healthcare power of attorney, sometime also known as a healthcare proxy.
Even though they want to make sure their parents can act in emergencies, sometimes college age students worry about their parents gaining access to too much private information. These students need not worry. Authorization for access to healthcare information can easily carve out information about sexual activity, drug use, or mental health treatment, to keep private, while allowing access to broader information necessary to respond to emergencies or make life-and-death decisions. While federal law does not technically require a HIPAA authorization to be notarized or witnessed, I have had clients get pushback from ill-informed, low level hospital staff.
Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney
A durable healthcare power of attorney works by designating someone to serve as your “agent” to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to make those decisions for yourself. Depending on the state you are in, a durable healthcare power of attorney might go by one of several other names including: a medical power of attorney, healthcare proxy, healthcare power of attorney, or living will (in some states this is a separate document dealing specifically with life-and-death circumstances). But in every case these documents are advanced directives that empower the appointed healthcare agent with the right to make medical decisions for the person who signs the document.
In many states, including Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the most common types of healthcare power of attorney combine the HIPAA authorization, living will directives, and medical decision making authority into one document. But it is also important to know that these forms change from state to state. Even though most states will honor the durable healthcare powers of attorney from other states, for ease of use, I always recommend that college students traveling out of state execute healthcare powers of attorney for their home state as well as the state where their college or university is located, and provide a copy of both to their parents. This way the doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are familiar with the forms they are presented, limiting the chance for pushback or confusion based on the home state forms.
Durable Power of Attorney (for financial affairs)
In addition to medical decision making, it is also advantageous for students to sign a financial durable power of attorney. Signing a durable power of attorney allows a parent or other designated agent to make financial transactions for you and the powers granted are typically very broad. This could include things like talking to the registrar or bursar at school, accessing your bank accounts at home, signing your tax returns, registering your car, paying bills, or even selling off your investments or buying property in your name. Obviously, it is important that you completely trust anyone to whom you grant a financial power of attorney. The financial decisions they make for you can have a lasting impact on your financial condition and credit for years to come. For that reason, even if your trust your parents with your medical decisions, if you have any reason to suspect they are not good at managing money, you might want to think twice before granting one or both of them this power. Generally though, college students continue to rely on the administrative and financial support of their parents until they graduate college. Granting them a financial power of attorney makes that support easier for them to give.
Getting Help from Massachusetts and Rhode Island Estate Planning Lawyers
Massachusetts and Rhode Island estate planning lawyers at Fabisch Law Offices will guide you through the key steps you need to take to save for college, ensure your child is financially provided for, and make plans for the care of your child if something happens to you. Reach out to our legal team so you can have the peace of mind of knowing you’ve done all you can to protect your child.
To find out more about the services we can offer you, join us for a free seminar, give us a call at 401-324-9344 or contact us online to get help putting your personalized plan in place.
Matthew Fabisch is the Managing Attorney of Fabisch Law, L.L.C. and assists elderly clients and their children with a full range of elder law services including estate planning, wills, trusts, probate, business successions, Medicaid planning, disability planning, and tax planning. Attorney Fabisch also practices in the areas of IRS Tax Controversy and Appellate matters.