If you have a college-aged child, estate planning is probably the last thing on your mind. However, estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy and aging. It also includes provisions for while you’re still alive, and everyone can benefit from having a plan in place if they’re no longer able to care for themselves or make important decisions. For example designating someone who can make healthcare-related decisions on their behalf if they’re unable to can be a helpful—and potentially necessary—first step in estate planning that benefits both the student and their family.
Why College Students Need a Backup Healthcare Plan
Since most college students are at least 18 years old—technically adults—they’re responsible for all decisions regarding their health. Furthermore, due to the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), parents have no legal right to their adult children’s medical records or other healthcare-related information. This roadblock makes it difficult—if not impossible—for parents to step in and assist if their college-aged child needs medical help, especially from a distance. Unfortunately, HIPAA even applies in cases where the student is still on his or her parents’ medical insurance
For example, an 18-year-old who is brought into the emergency room unconscious is likely unable to make immediate decisions regarding their healthcare. This can be a frightening prospect if quick decisions must be made. Likewise, a parent who tries to obtain information on her child’s condition from a distance will likely be met with pushback due to HIPAA regulations. While no parent wants to consider such worst-case scenarios, having certain documents in place before the worst happens can alleviate many of these challenges.
How You Can Prepare
Three legal documents make it much easier for parents to step in and assist their college-aged children in the event of a medical emergency:
· HIPAA authorization—A legal document that allows an individual’s health information to be used by or disclosed to a third party.
· Medical/healthcare power of attorney—This document allows an individual to designate another person to be their agent in the event they’re no longer able to make decisions regarding their own healthcare.
· Durable power of attorney—A document that can be used to give another person the authority to make healthcare decisions, make financial transactions, or sign legal documents on an individual’s behalf if they become mentally incapacitated or otherwise unable to perform these activities on their own.
While these documents can vary by state, it’s best to fill out the forms relevant to the state in which the student attends college. Some schools have their own forms, so it’s worth checking with an administrator as you go through the process.
Most of these forms can be found online and completed and signed without an attorney present. However, if you have any questions or concerns, it can be helpful to consult your attorney or another trusted advisor. An attorney may also be able to advocate on your behalf in case you experience unexpected difficulties.
In a perfect world, you’ll never need to rely on these forms. However, it’s always better to be prepared if things don’t go as planned. Taking a few hours to obtain and complete these documents can save a great deal of stress down the road. And, be sure to keep copies of all documents on your phone or computer so that you can easily access them if necessary.
To learn more, please read our white paper on the same topic, Supporting the Next Generation’s Education.