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Gianelli & Associates News Blog

Monday, November 2, 2015

College Aged Children

Many parents assume that because their college-age child still lives with them, they would be able to assume guardianship in case of an accident. This couldn’t be further from the truth — college students are adults, and as such have privacy rights that can prevent parents from making important medical decisions or even talking to doctors. Here’s what you need to know.

Understanding Changes

Once a person turns 18, they are viewed as an adult under the eyes of the law. This is true even if they are still living with or financially dependent on their parents. There are a number of laws and regulations in place to support the medical privacy and financial integrity of adults. This means that in the absence of other arrangements, if your child faces a medical emergency like an accident at school and is unconscious and hospitalized, you may face numerous barriers to getting information or making decisions on their behalf. 

HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a privacy law that sets strict standards about the unauthorized sharing of medical information, both between medical professionals and to people in the patient's life. HIPAA prevents doctors from sharing medical information with you unless your child indicates otherwise. 

The privacy issue bleeds into the matter of making decisions. It's common to assume that, as the parent, you automatically have the ability to make health care and financial decisions for your child if they are incapacitated. However, without prior arrangements, you will be unable to do so.

How to Proceed

Before your child leaves for school, it's important to make arrangements so that you can access information and make decisions in case your child becomes injured or sick. The following legal documents can ensure that you have legal rights: 

  • Advance health care directive- Appoints you as an agent to make medical decisions in the event that your child is unable to do so. This document also provides space for the child to indicate their preferences on medical decisions such as organ donation and life support. 
  • HIPAA release- Colleges and medical offices offer HIPAA releases that patients can decide to sign. If they do so, medical records and health information can be released directly to you.
  • Durable power of attorney- Appoints you as an agent to make financial decisions in case your child can't.
  • Will - No one likes to think about the possibility of tragedy striking. However, in the unlikely event that it should, having a will in place can help you avoid a lengthy, expensive process to access to accounts and property. Since college-age kids usually have few assets, the process of estate planning is usually quick and straightforward. 

You might also consider having your name listed on your child's bank account, particularly if you support them financially, so that you have immediate access in case of emergency. If nothing else, make sure that you are named as the account's beneficiary. 

With these arrangements in place, your child will be able to have someone who loves them immediately take the reins in the event of an emergency. Like installing a fire alarm and purchasing homeowner's insurance and then hoping you never have a fire, making arrangements such as these are a good way to prepare for an unlikely but potentially catastrophic event. 

Because events like these happen so rarely, though, you'll be better off in the capable hands of an attorney with experience at planning for them. Call or email us today if you'd like to discuss your children in college.


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