The Importance of a Healthcare Proxy for College Students and Their Parents

This is the time of year that college students head back to campus for a new semester.  For those of you sending your child off for the first time, or for those of you sending kids back to college for another year, this can be an emotionally challenging time.  And, you will have a normal “checklist” of things that will need to be completed – books, dorm supplies, meal plans and financial considerations.  But, in addition to those more obvious concerns, you might also want to prepare some legal documents before your child leaves home.

If your son or daughter gets sick or is injured at college, and you have not prepared the appropriate legal documents, you could run into obstacles that would prevent you from offering help or making any decisions regarding their care.

Enter the Health-care proxy.

For children under the age of 18, a health-care provider can always release medical records and share information with parents.  But everything changes once the child reaches the age of 18. At this time your child is entitled to the same medical record and financial privacy standards as you are.  What this means is doctors and other health professionals are now prohibited from sharing health or financial information about your children without their permission!  This falls under the guidelines of HIPAA (the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

But, if you have prepared a health-care proxy and power of attorney in advance of sending your kids to college, then you, as parents, would be allowed to get information about your child’s medical condition, access records, and make decisions for them if they are incapacitated.

With a health-care proxy, a child can designate a parent as an agent or proxy.  If the child is unable to make decisions, the proxy may get information about the child’s condition, discuss options, express the child’s wishes, and make treatment decisions.

For state-specific versions of documents including the health-care proxy, visit www.caringinfo.org.

For those of you with students attending college out of state, it is important to seek advice on the correct documents to use.  Up-to-date versions of these documents for each state can be downloaded at no cost at that website.

A durable power of attorneyis another important document that parents and students should consider.  This document authorizes an agent (you, the parent) to manage finances and sign legal documents on behalf of your child if he or she is deemed incapacitated.  The power of attorney will make it possible for you to sign documents, access bank accounts, and manage their accounts.

The opportune time to prepare these documents is prior to your child leaving for college, but, if they’re already there, you can still do this.  And, if you don’t have kids in college, but you do have grandkids, PLEASE share this information with your own children so they can do what’s best for their children!