Packing for college? Remember the legal documents

Bill Cass, CFP®, CPWA®

Bill Cass, CFP®, CPWA®, 08/21/19

Packing for college? Remember the legal documents

Parents have a lot to think about when getting a child ready for college. From dormitory supplies to financial considerations, many families create a checklist of basic necessities. To support their child’s health and well-being, parents may want to expand that list to include certain legal documents.

A health-care proxy and FERPA authorization can remove barriers for parents to access important information. The best time to prepare these documents is before a student leaves for college.

Complete a health-care proxy

No one wants to think about an accident or illness, but parents want to help their child in case of an emergency. A health-care proxy allows parents to receive medical information and make decisions for their child.

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 have the right to medical record and financial privacy. Doctors cannot share information because of federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations.

If parents prepare documents before their child leaves for college, they could remove the barriers of privacy law.

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 cannot access medical information.

A child can designate a parent as an agent or proxy. If the child is unable to make decisions, the proxy may discuss options, express the child’s wishes, and make treatment decisions. A companion document — the living will (advance directive) — guides the proxy. This document allows the student to discuss his or her wishes about the use of various types of medical treatments.

For many states, there is conformity among the health-care proxy and living will documents. But there can be differences between the states. For parents of students attending college out of state, it is important to choose the correct forms. It may be best to complete a form from the resident state in addition to the state where the student is attending college.

The AARP provides state-specific advance directive and health proxy forms on its website.

HIPAA medical release

Patients may sign a HIPAA form if they visit a doctor or hospital. Still, documents prepared in advance should include language that will allow the designated proxy to receive medical information.

Durable power of attorney

Families should also consider a durable power of attorney. This document authorizes an agent (the parent) to manage finances and sign legal documents on behalf of the child if he or she is incapacitated. The power of attorney allows parents to access and manage bank accounts.

FERPA: Access to school information

Parents may obtain authorization under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to access a child’s school records or financial aid information. They may need to help their child make decisions about course work or assist in financial decision making. Parents may also want to update incorrect information and amend their child’s school record. For more information, see the FERPA website.

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