Is a Power of Attorney on Your College Packing List?

If you are a parent, imagine waking up to a missed text from your son or daughter saying:  “Mom, I’m in the hospital. It was an accident, but the doctor says I’ll be okay.”   After multiple calls to the emergency department you finally reach a nurse only to be told that medical information and your child’s condition could not be released.  You are 6 hours away and unable to help, let alone not even knowing if it is a situation that you could help.

The Concern

At the age of 18, your child becomes an adult in the eyes of the law and the privacy regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) will prevent a medical professional from disclosing information about your child without consent. It does not matter if your child is still on your insurance and you are paying the bill.  The hospital will protect its patient’s privacy, and this is likely to be particularly true if you are dealing with medical staff that your family has never met. 

Estate planning documents like a Power of Attorney are often on the to-do list of older generations and not on the mind of a young-adult in the midst of planning for college when summer vacations, picking classes or packing for the dorm are more front and center.  That being said, young persons, even those heading off to college, rely on the guidance of their parents in many situations and medical advice is likely to be at the top of that list.  The situations are varied, and it may be an automobile accident, a sports injury at an ultimate frisbee tournament, too much sun during Mexico spring break or an allergic reaction to trying new food.  If your son or daughter is unable to provide consent, then the doctors won’t be able to talk to you.

What Can You Do?

A power of attorney can provide a parent or legal guardian the power to act on behalf of a child in specific matters. 

A Durable Healthcare Power of Attorney is a legal document that provides someone the authority to act on your behalf to make medical decisions when you are unable to do so.   Generally speaking, this document addresses three main issues:  1) it names your Health Care Agent, the person you choose to make healthcare decisions; 2) it authorizes medical providers to disclose information to your Health Care Agent (the HIPAA authorization); and 3) it expresses your wishes and provides instructions for life-preserving medical treatment.  In some instances, these documents may exist separately, but are often combined into one.

During a chaotic medical situation, it should bring peace of mind to know that you can communicate with your child’s doctors so long as this document is signed.

It is also worth noting that parents (or another trusted adult) can be granted access to a young adult’s medical records and have permission to speak with their health care providers, if the adult child signs a HIPAA medical information release form and name the individuals to whom they grant access. A HIPAA release form can be easily obtained from your child’s doctor’s office and/or insurance provider. There are some free forms available, but health care providers often have their own HIPAA form containing specific language that they prefer to distribute to their patients. To be safe, it may be wise to have your child obtain and sign copies of the HIPAA release form from all health care providers who are regularly involved in their care (primary care doctors, specialists, hospitals, clinics and insurance providers).

How Can We Help?

While you may not have considered it previously, having a healthcare power of attorney signed by your child is an important planning tool to help when away at college. Additionally, and although the circumstances might not be as pressing as a medical emergency, a financial power of attorney may also be a good idea (bank access, filing taxes, signing legal documents, etc.).  The documents are generally quick and cost effective to prepare. 

If you would like to discuss a Power of Attorney and any other estate planning matters, the attorneys at Schwartz Montoya Legal, LLC are well versed in devising a plan that fits your needs and those of all your family members.  Please do not hesitate to contact our office at (412) 419-1005 or email at if you have questions about a Power of Attorney in addition to other estate planning questions.

Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash

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