Before Sending Your Student Off to College, Do This

Imagine the following situation: It’s 10:00 a.m. on a beautiful spring day. The birds are singing. The sun is out – finally! Everything seems right with the world. Standing in line at your favorite coffee shop, you receive a phone call that your daughter was found unresponsive in her dorm room. She has been rushed to the emergency room at a hospital that you have never heard of before.

When you get there the hospital’s medical team refuses to give you any information about her condition or what kind of care she is receiving. They won’t even tell you what is wrong with her. As an adult she has a legal right to privacy that prevents the hospital from disclosing any personal, medical information.

While this may seem unlikely, it can happen. Do you know what you need in order to be involved in her care, now that she’s a legal adult?

If your son or daughter were to experience a medical emergency would you be able to help them? Will you be able to access the appropriate legal documents that authorize you to obtain their medical information and direct their care?

But before sending your student off to college, do this:

Create a health care directive for your 18-year old.

A health care directive is a document that defines who is able to make medical decisions and direct care on your behalf if you are unable to do so. It also gives specific people (for example, the student’s parents) the right to obtain medical information in the event of an emergency.

Now that your student is 18 she is a legal adult, with all the benefits and responsibilities that come with adult life. This includes a right to privacy – at least in the eyes of the law.

According to Anne Elizabeth Denny, a consultant who helps people create their own health care directives, if a young adult who is age 18 or older has a medical crisis, parents may or may not be given the opportunity to make medical decisions on their child’s behalf or to receive medical information regarding their child.

Without a health care directive, if your son or daughter were to experience a medical emergency you could be powerless to get information on their condition, direct their care and may be prevented from even seeing your child.

A well-crafted health care directive solves that problem. In addition to appointing a health care agent (a person with the legal authority to make medical decisions on behalf of another person), your student’s health care directive should also include a HIPAA release.

A HIPAA release gives medical professionals, hospitals and your student’s school, permission to release medical information regarding your child. Without the appropriate medical information it would be difficult, if not impossible, to direct their medical care. Denny has an excellent article about why HIPAA language is so important. You will find it on her website or by clicking this link.

How medical professionals, hospitals and schools apply the HIPAA laws will vary. Every state has slightly different rules. Different colleges may have different policies. In a perfect world you would have already researched this before hand and consulted with an attorney familiar with the laws of the state your student is in at the time that care is needed. You would have an attorney draft a health care directive that includes a legal health care power-of-attorney as well as a HIPAA release specific for your state.

That’s in a perfect world. Unfortunately there is no way of anticipating every possible contingency and attorney’s can be expensive. At a minimum, parents should create a health care directive for their student that goes into effect when they turn 18. This document, which carries significant legal weight, does not have to be drafted by an attorney. If you have an attorney that you work with, that can be a great place to start. You can also consult people like Anne Elizabeth Denny to help you draft your own.

There are also templates and additional information available online that will help you do this as well. If you live in Minnesota you can download their state form by clicking here. For more information about health care directives, check out the Minnesota Department of Health website or click here. Other states have similar information available on line.

The important thing is to get a written document that appoints you or another trusted adult as the health care attorney-in-fact and allows you to receive medical information regarding your student (aka a HIPAA release).

And you need to do that now.

Make the health care directive accessible. Once you draft your child’s health care directive and get all the appropriate signatures, the next step is to make sure it’s kept in a place where you can access it at anytime, from anywhere, under any circumstance.

Legal documents like a health care directive are worthless if they can’t be produced on the spot. Fortunately these days there are a lot of easy ways to do that. If you have a smartphone, start there. The health care directive can be saved on Dropbox or Google Docs and accessed via your phone when you need it (just make sure you have your password handy as well). Apps like Evernote or MicroSoft Notes can also allow you to save and access important documents.

If you have a file for important documents, keep a hard copy there as well. I like the easy technology solutions, but often low-tech can save the day. In fact, you should always have a fail-safe, low-tech solution as a backup.

Provide copies of your child’s health care directive to them, their other parent, stepparents, and anyone who is listed on the directive as a health care attorney-in-fact. Dropbox and other similar services have sharing features that make this easy.

If you work with a financial advisor or an attorney ask if they have a way to keep and share these documents. Often they will have an online vault or other means by which they can store and share this information. If nothing else, they can maintain a hardcopy file and fax or email it to you in an emergency.

Just one more thing. After you write your child’s health care directive, there is just one more little thing that you should do. Write your own.

For a little more detail on the reasons why check out this previous blog post.