Your 18-year-old has headed off to college. Despite what you may feel, she will now be considered an adult in the eyes of the law and the university. Your legal rights to make decisions on behalf of your child change entirely the moment she turns 18, so it’s important that you’re prepared for what this means now that she’s no longer at home.
You might still pay for everything in your child’s life, but the reality is that you no longer have complete access to his financial, educational or health records. All is not lost, however: With a little bit of planning, you’ll be able to establish some legal authority to make important financial and health decisions for him until he is entirely independent.
With the fall semester in full swing, it would be wise to set up a health care proxy and power of attorney to be prepared for anything that happens along the way. You may be asking yourself, what’s a health care proxy, and why do I need one when my child is perfectly healthy? It’s the same reason why you have insurance and (we hope) a will prepared: Unforeseen events will always happen. It’s wise to take every precaution now so that in the case of an emergency, you can tackle things head-on.
The health care proxy will allow your child to appoint you or another trusted adult to make medical decisions for her in the event that she is unable to herself. It should include language consistent with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, which would enable a doctor to disclose vital medical information to you. An illness can develop more quickly than you think, and when you are, in some cases, hundreds of miles away from your child, you’ll want information as quickly as possible.
A few years ago, a couple dropped off their excited 18-year-old daughter at a high-ranking university across the country. They stayed in a nearby hotel for a few days to make sure she had settled in before making their way back home. Three weeks later, a resident assistant called to inform them that she had been taken to a hospital with a serious case of the flu. The R.A. was no longer there, because she had to get back to her shift, and their daughter was too ill to talk on the phone. Those well-meaning parents hadn’t thought to set up a health care proxy, leaving the doctors and nurses unable to disclose any information on her status, citing strict HIPAA laws that protect patient confidentiality.