First in Class: Legal Documents Every College Student Must Have

August 4, 2020

Congratulations to all parents of college students! Give yourself a pat on the back, as you have successfully nurtured your child into a mature adult. If your child is going off to college this year, you will likely help acquire apartment/dorm essentials, review their class schedule, and plow through all the necessary paperwork for enrollment and financial aid. However, there are likely some important documents you (and your college student) do not have on the college prep list: A Durable Power of Attorney and a Medical Power of Attorney (also known as a Health Care Surrogate).

Estate planning for your grown-up child is likely the last thing on your mind. Yet do you know that from a legal standpoint, your child is no longer “a child.” The age of majority in the state of Florida is 18 years of age. This means that when your child turns 18, they gain almost all the legal rights that adults have. Some of those include the right to vote, getting a driver’s license, and getting married… all without parental permission. 

Likewise, when a child turns 18, the parents’ rights in controlling their child’s affairs become significantly diminished. This is quite a transition because for many young adults, college represents the first time they will be without direct parental supervision. To help provide parents with peace of mind, there are legal documents that allow parents to retain some control. Such documents authorize parents to intercede on their child’s behalf, to handle an emergency, such as if your child becomes ill or requires hospitalization.

Let us consider a real-world example of why having an estate plan is crucial. An 18-year old is brought into the emergency room unconscious and unable to make immediate decisions regarding his/her healthcare. As a parent your first instinct is to obtain all the information as to your child’s health. The last thing parents want to face is pushback from the doctors and nurses due to HIPAA privacy regulations. Shockingly enough, the hospital may not even be willing to confirm whether your child has been admitted to that hospital.

No parent wants to find themselves in that situation. This is why having the right legal documents in place will alleviate many of these horrific obstacles and allow parents to step in and assist their children in an emergency. The following three legal documents are crucial for every college-aged adult:

Medical Power of Attorney: A medical power of attorney is sometimes referred to as a healthcare surrogate or a healthcare proxy. This document allows families to plan ahead for difficult medical decisions. It allows your child to name someone (known as the “agent”) that will make healthcare decisions for them in case they are unable to make them. This is crucial because it saves time on paperwork during an emergency and allows parents to act right away. Likewise, it prevents disagreements within the family as to who should make these critical decisions. Such decisions include consenting to certain medical procedures, seeking a second opinion, obtaining medical records, or transferring the child to a different facility. 

HIPAA Authorization: A signed HIPAA Authorization Form (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) gives permission to the medical provider and health insurance companies to disclose medical information to whomever your child specifies in the document. If the college has a health clinic, for example, the clinic may require a HIPAA authorization form signed by your child to give you access to any information about his/her treatment there. Having this signed formed on hand is extremely useful for the parent.

Durable Power of Attorney:  A durable power of attorney (“DPOA”) is another type of crucial legal document that can give parents permission to handle their children’s legal and financial affairs in case of an emergency. It allows your child to select a person (“the agent”) to “step into his/her shoes” if they become mentally or physically incapacitated. Incapacity means that a person has a disabling medical condition that prevents them from managing their basic needs and financial affairs. Incapacity can be caused by several conditions including a severe physical accident, excessive drug or alcohol consumption, or a serious illness. With a properly executed durable power of attorney, the agent will be able to make legal and financial decisions, such as contacting your child’s bank, credit card companies, social media accounts. etc. Yes, we said social media accounts because often that provides the best clues on the incidents that led up to your child’s injury. Remember, that this is a very trusting responsibility so only a close family member or trusted friend should be appointed to serve as agent.

Although many of these forms can be found online, only an experienced estate planning attorney will ensure they are done right. It is very easy to make a mistake in filling out an online form, and the mistake will only be caught once it is too late. OC Estate & Elder Law goes one step further in spotting possible pitfalls with each document we create. Our law firm is here to assist you and your family to help provide peace of mind. Contact OC Estate and Elder Law at (954) 251-0332  or for a free phone consultation. Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian.