Why your college student needs legal planning documents
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Why your college student needs legal planning documents

What Happens if Your Child Has an Emergency While Away at College?

By Susie Germany, Esq.

As your buzzing cell phone wakes you up in the middle of the night, you realize what time it is and orient yourself. It is a number you do not recognize. When you answer the phone, you realize the person on the other end of the line is your son’s girlfriend at college. As you start piecing together what she is saying, you realize there has been an accident. Your son is not conscious and is in an out-of-state hospital. When you hang up the phone, you jump into action. You get dressed, pack what you can, make a flight reservation and try to get out the door. In the meantime, as you are making calls to the hospital trying to speak to someone who can tell you what is going on, you are told they cannot speak to you. Why?

Your son is 19. In the eyes of the law, he is an adult, and he has not given you access under the Health Insurance Portability Act to speak to and obtain information about his condition from his care providers. (HIPAA) Further, you do not have any formal legal status such as an agent under a Medical Durable Power of Attorney, to make any decisions on his behalf.

Sadly, this scenario is common. Every year, thousands of college kids leave home for the first time. Often, they get ill, or unfortunately have accidents.

So what are your rights as parents to make decisions for them or to access their private health information? The short answer is if your child is 18 of older, they are no longer minors and you therefore have no automatic rights to make decisions on their behalf.

However, if your child executes a Medical Durable Power of Attorney, HIPAA Authorization and General Durable Power of Attorney for Finances, and names you as agent, you do have the authority necessary to act on behalf of your child, both medically and financially and to obtain access to their medical records and care providers. Often, we don’t realize the importance of these documents until there is an emergency. However, be wary of fill-in-the-blank forms downloaded off the internet as they may not be statutorily correct or apply in your state. It is important for everyone who signs a legal document to be fully informed of their meaning and the legal consequences for what they are signing.

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