As a parent of one of the millions of college freshmen leaving home for college this month, I was surprised to discover a gaping hole in my meticulous preparations: health care authorization forms and powers of attorney. In an emergency situation or any health care situation that arises once your child turns 18 and technically becomes an adult, your authority as a parent becomes less relevant. Medical staff are prevented from providing anyone, even parents, with medical information under the privacy rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA.
Your college freshman probably still relies on you in emergency situations, and a few simple forms will allow you to have the authority to help when needed: a HIPAA authorization, a durable health care power of attorney, a durable general power of attorney, and a living will declaration.
The HIPAA Authorization permits a health care provider to disclose health information to anyone identified in the form. In addition to parents, students may authorize a nearby relative or friend to receive health information.
Beyond obtaining information, you may want the authority to make health care decisions on your child’s behalf in the unfortunate event he or she is incapacitated. This can be accomplished by your child executing a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney. Health care powers of attorney typically do not take effect until your child is incapacitated.
It is also advisable to have your child sign a Durable General Power of Attorney authorizing you to handle routine financial matters on her or his behalf. This document can be effective from the moment it is signed, but may also be written not to take effect until your child is incapacitated.
A final document to consider is a Living Will Declaration. Living wills are used to record preferences for end of life care when communicating those wishes isn’t possible. Although this may be a delicate subject, a conversation with your child about this now may make decisions less difficult in the event of an unexpected tragedy.
The forms for these documents vary by state and need to comply with the specific state laws that apply to them. Using forms that are available online can be dangerous because they don’t always satisfy the legal requirements. We encourage you to work with an attorney to ensure that these documents are properly prepared and signed. The costs of hiring an attorney to give you this peace of mind shouldn’t break the bank and will be well worth it.
Finally, it is important to note that all of these forms are in addition to any health care and other authorizations required by the college your freshman is attending. To be as fully prepared as possible, copies of the HIPAA Authorization, Durable Health Care Power of Attorney, and Living Will Declaration may be provided to the college’s health center. Once signed, scan these documents and keep them in a safe place. Also make sure copies are accessible in the event they are needed, particularly the health-related forms. Most providers will accept copies of these forms.
With these documents in hand, and your child away at college, you can not only go to bed before your child does, you can rest easier!