Colleges, Universities and the Value of the Advanced Directive

It is back to school season around the country. Many students are returning to dorms or off-campus housing, while  many families are sending their kids off to college for the first time.  It is not easy. There are so many things to consider at the beginning of a new semester:  appliances, wireless passwords,  supplies for the  home, roommates, books, tuition, toothpaste and cleaning supplies to name just a few.  We often forget to consider that in many cases, we will not have access to our child’s records. You may be thinking, “Wait! But I am paying the tuition here!”   Well, you may be, but that does not mean that you are automatically entitled to your child’s records. Institutes of higher education protect the privacy of their students under a series of rules designed to protect the student and the school or university. In light of that, this beginning of the school year may not only be a good time to discuss an order for home  of dorm supplies, but also the topic of Advance Directives. One of the many, but maybe overlooked, changes our kids’ face is that they are considered adults under the law once they turn eighteen. This despite the fact we may still think of them as kids. As  adults, albeit young adults, they have certain rights and responsibilities that they (and we) may not be aware of.  Having a set of documents that helps us help them prepare for some of the issues they might face can make the transition into the new school year a little less fraught.  There are three documents in particular that are helpful to the young adult, the Healthcare Proxy, the HIPPA authorization  and the Power of Attorney.

A Healthcare Proxy lets them us name an Agent to make healthcare decisions for us if we are incapacitated.  None of us wants to think that our 18, 19 or 20 year might need this, but the reality is that naming a Healthcare Agent (“Proxy”), is probably never not helpful in an emergency situation.  It is true that most hospitals generally allow the immediate family member of an incapacitated person to act as an Agent, but naming an Agent is still better than relying on the hope that a hospital or doctor will comply with your wishes for your child if there is an emergency. In fact, I have had clients enrolled at universities where the University actually requires that the student name a healthcare agent.    Not a bad policy if you ask me.

A HIPAA authorization is the second document that is helpful.   If your child is under the care of a psychiatrist or mental health professional,  or has an ongoing condition that requires the care of a medical professional, you need authorization to get information in your child’s medical records.  A HIPAA authorization will provide that authorization.

Finally, a Durable Power of Attorney allows an Agent to make financial decisions for the Principal (the person granting the Power). By giving you a Power of Attorney, the student is giving you authorization to make financial decisions on their behalf. That may be useful if there is an emergency or if you child is studying overseas or has some financial issues that must be dealt with locally.  Your child can still make financial decisions for themselves, but you have access, if needed.

I am providing this information so that  if there is an emergency situation you and your family are prepared. It is not to suggest that we as parents need to take on a role in our young adult’s life like we may have when they were in high school or elementary school. The rules change when they go off to school. We spend countless hours preparing for this transition. Two or three more is a “drop in the bucket,”