Off to College? Don’t Forget About the Essentials!

This time of year is always so exciting for parents. Proms. Parties. Pictures. Graduations. Prepping for college. But before you do all that, there is something else you should consider for your 18-year-old child: their estate plan.

We know what you are thinking, “why would I need an estate planning for my physically healthy and otherwise, financially destitute teenager?” Well, because in the eyes of the law, your newly minted high school graduate, is a legal adult who is responsible for their own medical and financial decisions. Which is just crazy to every Mom and Dad reading this because their teenager can’t seem to remember to shut the refrigerator door. But, it is true. Just imagine if they are away at school and they have an accident, become ill or even incapacitated. A hospital, doctor or nurse, cannot, by law, disclose any information to you about your own child’s medical condition without the proper documents in place. Due to the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Law, it is against the law for any medical personnel or hospital to discuss private medical information with anyone that you have not given consent. Also, the university or college that you are footing the bill for, cannot disclose any information. Another fly in the ointment are financial institutions. Because of privacy laws and fraud protection, banks, credit card companies, cell phone companies, etc. will not talk with anyone that has not been authorized by the account holder.

So, what is a parent supposed to do? The first thing you need to do is set up an appointment with and elder law attorney who will tell you that prior to going to college, every 18+ should sign three basic documents: a HIPAA release, a healthcare proxy and a durable power of attorney.  With these three documents, parents will be able to get the information they need to make legal and medical decisions for their teenager should they not be able to make them for themself.  

Health Care Proxy (HCP) – This is a legal document in which you designate an agent to make your medical decisions if you are unable to make them yourself.  It is only effective when a doctor indicates in that you are incapable of making medical decisions. Every HCP should have a primary agent and an alternate agent.

HIPAA Release – As we discussed, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) preserves the privacy of your medical information. It prohibits access to your private medical information. Without this document it can be very difficult for family members to assist each other with medical issues such as insurance, finding out about test results, speaking to a doctor or pharmacy about a prescription. In our HIPAA Release, you authorize the people listed on it to have access to his medical information. The HIPAA agent can fax or give a copy of the HIPAA Release to the medical provider and then the medical provider will be allowed to speak with that person.

Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) – This is a legal document in which you designate who you want to make legal and financial decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. Our DPOA is extremely comprehensive. It allows the agent to handle virtually all legal and financial matter that may arise. It is very important that you only pick people whom you trust to be your agent. It is also important that the DPOA have a primary agent and an alternate agent who acts only if the primary agent is unable.

So, sometime between that last graduation party and that first trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond for dorm room supplies, be sure to call our office to set an appointment for a College Student Package with one of our estate planning specialists.

©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street,   Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375.  This article is for illustration purposes only.  This handout does not constitute legal advice.  There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article.  DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout.  Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney.  Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.