Most parents send their kids off to college with everything they think they might possibly need to live on their own for the first time — from furniture and bed sheets to dishes and kitchen appliances, clothing and a pantry full of groceries.
But there’s one thing that’s potentially even more important than these essentials that parents often neglect when their kids leave home for college. We’re talking about important legal documents that could become critical if a student is ever injured or becomes seriously ill while away at college.
Slipping Through the Cracks
It’s easy to see why the preparation of legal documents for new college students often falls through the cracks. Before kids turn 18, such documents generally aren’t necessary. As long as kids are still minors, parents don’t need a legal document in order to receive information about their health condition or make important decisions about treatment options or, in a worst-case scenario, end-of-life issues.
But all this changes once a child turns 18 and legally becomes an adult. At this point, medical providers, including hospitals and urgent care centers, may not be legally allowed to share health information with parents due to regulations stipulated in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.
Three Vital Documents
Given this, it’s critical that you have the proper legal forms and documents executed before your child leaves for college. These typically include the following:
- A HIPAA release form — This document will enable healthcare providers to share information about your son’s or daughter’s health condition with you. Without a signed HIPAA release form, it could be more difficult to obtain basic health information from the hospital or urgent care center if your child is ever seriously injured or ill and can’t speak for himself or herself.
- A medical power of attorney or healthcare proxy – This document will give you the legal authority to make critical healthcare decisions for your son or daughter if he or she is incapacitated and unable to make them for himself or herself. This includes executing a do-no-resuscitate (or DNR) order so that life-sustaining measures aren’t taken if your son or daughter is in a coma or vegetative state with no hope of recovery.
- A durable power of attorney — This document will give you the authority to make financial decisions on behalf of your son or daughter if he or she is incapacitated and can’t make them for himself or herself. It also gives you the authority to sign financial and legal papers on behalf of your son or daughter and provides you with access to his or her financial accounts.
Invaluable Peace of Mind
An estate planning attorney can provide assistance in preparing and drafting these legal documents for your child. While there will likely be a cost involved, the peace of mind that having such documents in place can provide could make the cost well worth it for your family.
Once the documents are drafted, experts recommend that you keep them in a safe place where you can access them quickly and easily if needed — such as a home safe or bank safe deposit box. It’s also a good idea to store a PDF file electronically on a home computer that’s securely backed up to the cloud for easy digital access.
Make Plans Now
The thought of needing documents like these someday isn’t a pleasant thought for any family. But it’s much better to think about and prepare for this scenario now than to ignore it — and possibly find yourself in a very difficult situation later on.
Please contact us if you have more questions about preparing important legal documents for your children before they leave for college.