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Add a Health Care Power of Attorney to List of College Supplies

MP900341499You’ve shopped and packed everything from clothes and computers to room decorations, but don’t forget this important legal document.

Packing up your kid to go to college? You aren’t done until you’ve taken the final step of having a health care power of attorney or health proxy prepared to go with them.

Today, once a child turns 18, parents don’t have much authority under federal law to remotely access medical records or make decisions. With the medical privacy law HIPAA, you need to have your child’s written permission.

CBS News’ recent article, “Don't send your child to college without this,” suggests a health care proxy. It’s a pretty simple legal document that gives you the authority to make medical decisions and access their records if they’re disabled. Talk about a critical back-to-school item!

A health care power of attorney is critically important when a child has a health emergency at college.

A HIPAA authorization allows you access to your child’s medical records, which are protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Your child is an adult, so you can’t call the health center at college and get his or her detailed health information without an authorization.

The health care proxy is more complicated. The one signing it is giving another the authority to make medical decisions for them if they become incapacitated. An agent for health decisions is appointed with the proxy. The proxy covers a broad range of powers, and parents or other trusted individuals who are agents are allowed to speak with doctors, approve tests and examine medical records.

Prior to getting these forms, you should have a serious conversation with your college student on why the documents are important. The proxy talks about some unpleasant decision making—like specifying what treatment or care a person on life support wants and stipulating organ donation and other post-mortem issues. Some of the more detailed proxies have a questionnaire that runs through end-of-life or advanced “health care directive” decisions. As a parent, this is tough language to read, and these are difficult issues to discuss. Nonetheless, they provoke some serious thinking about quality of life in the event of a health emergency.

It’s important to know what the documents can and can’t do: they don’t ensure quality care, and you’ll still need to consult with doctors. Be sure you fully comprehend what these documents mean and how you can modify them.

Once the documents are completed, consider creating an action plan should you ever need to travel to your child’s college town for an emergency. Also, if you aren’t sure if you or your spouse will be able to handle this situation, speak with your estate planning lawyer to appoint a trusted family member or friend to make decisions if you or your spouse/partner can’t. This would also be a good time to review your own estate planning documents and make sure that you have a will, the appropriate powers of attorney and any needed trusts in place.

Reference: CBS News (September 9, 2016) “Don't send your child to college without this”