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Thursday, August 25, 2022

Importance of a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney for College Freshmen

While a parent’s job may never be done, things get more complicated when that child begins his or her college career.  Parents often understand the importance of having a healthcare power of attorney in place for a spouse or aging parent, but often do not think about how crucial this document is for a recent high school graduate or young adult child.  Most college freshmen are eighteen years old which means they are legal adults and parents are no longer entitled to make decisions on their behalf.  This can cause a problem if there is a medical emergency.

Once a child turns eighteen, his or her parents no longer have any legal say over medical or financial decisions involving the child.  Therefore, it is highly recommended that all eighteen-year old’s, especially those going off to school, execute a Health Care Proxy (also known as a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care) and a Revocable Durable Power of Attorney.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (more commonly referred to as HIPAA), your child's health records are between your child and his or her health care provider as soon as your child turns eighteen.  HIPAA laws go as far as preventing parents from even receiving medical updates or make decisions for their child if the child is unable to do so.  In the event that your child suffers a serious medical situation which results in his or her inability to communicate, it is more likely than not that your child's doctors and other medical professionals will refuse to speak with you and will not allow you to make medical decisions for your child. 

In this situation, in the absence of necessary estate planning documents, you would be forced to petition the Court to have you appointed as your child’s legal guardian.  This is a time consuming, costly, and emotional process.  All that would be needed to avoid this is a simple estate planning document called a health care proxy (which can also be referred to as a health care power of attorney or Advance Directive, depending on the state).

Another important estate planning document that an eighteen year old should sign is a Durable Power of Attorney.  This document provides power to the individual's person of choice (referred to as their attorney-in-fact) to make financial decisions on his or her behalf in the event of incapacity.  While many college students do not have major assets in their name, the Durable Power of Attorney is still a crucial document to have.  For example, many college students have financial aid packages.  Without a Durable Power of Attorney, the child's parents cannot manage their child's financial aid or even file tax returns on their behalf.

The hope would obviously be that these documents will never be necessary.  Unfortunately, things happen in life and it is always better to be prepared then to be stuck in a difficult, costly, and painstaking process.

If you have any questions regarding estate planning, please feel free to contact the Law Offices of Samuel S. Reidy for a free consultation.

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