Graduating high school and heading off to college is a rite of passage for many students. They are adults
in the eyes of the law but they are still your kids. In most cases we can navigate these distinctions, but
sometimes they come in conflict. At age 18, parents can no longer make legal decisions for them or
receive private information about them unless given permission. Not having that permission when your
child is living on their own for the first time can be stressful. To manage those challenges over the
coming years, there are three documents every college student should consider putting in place.
HIPAA Authorization Form – HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
The Privacy Rule of HIPAA draws boundaries around the disclosure of protected health information
(PHI), a welcome safeguard to our own health data. However, this might cause problems with your
college freshman who is now an adult. Without prior authorization, the only reason PHI can be shared is
for treatment purposes. Say your child is in a car accident and transported to the hospital. Imagine your
horror when the ER nurse informs you she is prohibited by law from sharing any health information with
you. Without this document, you have no more right to obtain medical details about your child than
you do a stranger on the street.
Healthcare Power of Attorney – Called an advance directive, this refers to both a legal document and a
specific person with legal authority. It allows you to make healthcare decisions on your student’s behalf
and grants the ability to converse with their medical care providers. Not all states have the same law
regarding these documents. Some require notarization while others need merely be witnessed. In
some states, the HIPAA Authorization is part of the Power of Attorney forms, allowing access to the
information needed to have an informed discussion. Pay attention to the state laws where your child
will be educated, as well as any requirements of the college student health center.
General Durable Power of Attorney – Enables you to make financial or business decisions on your
student’s behalf. You can decide whether that power vests in you immediately or only if your student
becomes incapacitated. Say your student is studying abroad and realizes he needs to register his car, or
file his tax returns. A power of attorney would allow you to sign the necessary document on behalf of
your student. This document can also allow you to see your student’s grades, something they may not
The access granted under these documents is not trivial, and it plays a key role to ensure proper
decisions are made on their behalf if they are unable to do so. Contact your estate planner for more
information. Your student is an adult now and can decide for themselves how to distribute these
powers. It is important that you and your student are clear on the reasons for the documents and how
they will be used if called into force.