Get Important Legal Documents in Place before College Begins

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Summertime is upon us, and it can be hectic, especially if you are preparing your child to head off to college for the first time. Now, fast-forward a few months. You get a phone call from the school telling you they have been rushed to the hospital. You phone the hospital and ask about their condition. Incredibly, the hospital tells you it cannot divulge anything about your child because federal law prohibits unauthorized disclosure of someone’s confidential medical information, even to their parents.

When you eventually arrive at the hospital, you discover your child is mentally incapacitated, but doctors explain that you cannot make critical medical decisions for them. You learn that you’ll have to go to court to begin the long and expensive process of being named your adult child’s guardian.

Obviously, this is every parent’s nightmare. Amid the excitement of preparing a child for their freshman experience, it is so easy for parents to forget that they are no longer the natural legal guardians of their college-age child, and so are no longer authorized to make personal, medical or financial decisions for them. Without your noticing, your child has become an adult in the eyes of the law.

The good news is that this tragic turn of events is easily preventable if, before heading off for freshman year, your college-bound child gets three simple and inexpensive legal documents in place.

HIPAA Release

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the federal law that prohibits healthcare professionals from disclosing your adult child’s confidential medical information to you unless your child previously named you as his or her HIPAA agent. If you are not named in a HIPAA Release, it matters not how close your family relationship, the doctors legally cannot tell you a thing. If you ever get that dreaded phone call, the HIPAA Release will at least give you immediate knowledge, for better or worse, of your child’s medical condition.

Healthcare Proxy

Once you know the medical facts, and if you learn your child is mentally incapacitated, you legally cannot make any medical decisions regarding treatment unless he or she previously nominated you as their healthcare agent in a legal document called a healthcare proxy. In Massachusetts, a proxy must be witnessed by two persons, neither of whom is named as health care agent. If no proxy exists, you will have no choice but to go to court to begin the long, stressful, and expensive process of being appointed your child’s guardian.

Durable Power of Attorney

Many parents incorrectly assume they could just step in to manage their incapacitated child’s finances (such as banking, car and student loans or insurance) simply because they remain the child’s principal source of income. Your college-bound freshman should execute a durable power of attorney, authorizing you – as their “attorney-in-fact” – to handle their finances. Unlike a healthcare proxy, which becomes effective only when your child is mentally incapacitated, a power of attorney normally takes effect immediately. So you can assist your child with their finances while they’re away at college. Once your child becomes mentally incompetent, however, the power of attorney will be more than a matter of convenience. Without it, you’ll need to go to court to be gain control over your child’s day-to-day financial affairs.

When your child leaves for college, make sure they carry one of the healthcare-directive wallet cards now available, which allow doctors or hospitals to gain quick phone or internet access to healthcare documents, even if your child is no condition to communicate.

So add to your summer checklist to remind your college-age child to get these three inexpensive documents in place before they head off for school. You cannot do this task for them, because they are legal adults who must now begin making their own legal decisions. But once they realize the unnecessary heartache they might spare you, they will appreciate the wisdom of taking these simple precautions.

Conveniently located in North Attleborough, we serve clients from Massachusetts and Rhode Island, especially the communities of North Attleborough, Taunton, Attleboro, Norton, Foxboro,  Norton, Wrentham, Rehoboth, Plainville,  Mansfield, Franklin, Seekonk, Woonsocket, Pawtucket, Providence, Cumberland,  and Lincoln.

Comments are closed.