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A student’s health-care proxy can remove barriers for parents in case of an emergency

Bill Cass, CFP®, CPWA®

Bill Cass, CFP®, CPWA®, 07/25/18

With fall approaching, many parents are busy helping their children prepare for college. For many families, this may mark the first time they are sending a child to college. As they work through their checklist, in addition to books, dorm supplies, and financial considerations, parents may also want to prepare some legal documents before their child leaves home.

If a child is sick or injured while living away at college, and parents have not prepared some important documents, they may run into obstacles that can prevent them from offering help or making decisions. Health-care proxy

For children under the age of 18, a health-care provider can release medical records and share information with parents. But once children reach the age of 18, they are entitled to medical record and financial privacy. Doctors cannot share information without permission because of regulations under the federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). But if families prepare important documents, including a health-care proxy and power of attorney, in advance of going to college, the parents would be allowed to get information about their child’s medical condition, access records, and make decisions for them if they are incapacitated.

With a health-care proxy, a child can designate a parent as an agent or proxy. If the child is unable to make decisions, the proxy may get information about the child’s condition, discuss options, express the child’s wishes, and make treatment decisions. A living will is often paired with the health-care proxy, and signed at the same time, to help guide the proxy. This document allows the student to discuss his or her wishes about the use of various types of medical treatments to extend life.

For state-specific versions of documents including the health-care proxy, visit

For many states, there is conformity among the health-care proxy and living will (or health directive) documents. But there can be differences between the states. For parents of students attending college out of state, it is important to seek advice on the correct documents to use. Up-to-date versions of these documents by state can be downloaded at no cost at

HIPAA medical release

When patients visit a doctor or hospital, they are often asked to sign a HIPAA form, which authorizes the sharing of medical information with a designated person. Typically these forms are signed at the treating facility. However, documents prepared in advance should include language that will allow the designated agent to receive medical information in compliance with HIPAA regulations.

Durable power of attorney

A durable power of attorney is another important document that parents and students should consider. This document authorizes an agent (the parent) to manage finances and sign legal documents on behalf of the patient if he or she is deemed incapacitated. The power of attorney will make it possible for parents to sign documents on behalf of their child, access bank accounts, and manage their accounts.

A child may have opted to stay on the family health insurance plan rather than enroll in school-sponsored coverage. But enrollment in the family’s insurance plan does not preclude the child’s right to privacy. Without a health-care proxy, parents are not entitled to medical information about an adult child.

The opportune time to prepare these documents is prior to your child leaving for college. You may want to seek assistance from a family financial advisor or legal counsel to gather and review the documents.


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About this blog

Financial-planning experts Bill Cass and Chris Hennessey weigh in each week with a range of insights about complex financial planning needs.

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