By Sam Rouman
Now that your child has gone off to college, you may be thinking your primary role is to pay the tuition, do laundry when they come for the weekend, focus on your other children, etc. What you might not have considered is that your adult child is legally no longer your responsibility, and your right to information, in particular health-related information is significantly restricted. Additional legal and documentation complications enter if your child is attending school in a different city or state. Laws restricting access to information have changed significantly in recent years, in particular what you, as the parent can access about your adult child.
There are two important documents to secure before your child heads off to university: Health Care Directive and Durable Power of Attorney.
Health Care Directive
A health care directive (HCD), or power of attorney (POA) is most important, as it authorizes someone else (parent) to make medical decisions on behalf of the child, as well as gives access to medical records in the event the child is incapacitated or temporarily unable to make decisions for himself. The document is state-specific to where it will be used.
Most states have default statutes for who can make medical decisions on one’s behalf, and it’s not always the “correct” order of people. For example, a stepparent or sibling may be the preferred agent to make decisions. With many college students traveling out of state, this can become an issue as both client and child may not be familiar with a particular state’s law.
A signed HCD will give you or another important individual access to and the ability to assist your child with health-related decisions.
Some clients are also opting for a durable POA to make financial decisions on the child’s behalf. The financial POA is also state-specific. While the health care POA is important for all students, the financial POA can be more relevant for high-net-worth (HNW) families, as young adults from HNW families tend to have more assets and business interests at stake. Note that the financial POA can also authorize the designated agent to deal with student loans and sort out tuition bills.
Because these documents are relatively inexpensive and quick to put in place, it’s a good idea for all clients with kids heading off to college to have them. An attorney can assist with identifying needs based on your specific situation, drafting the documents and explaining the importance of signing the documents to the child.