You've purchased a mini-fridge, explained the necessity of shower shoes and bribed an RA for regular updates on your kid's first semester of college. But don't start turning their bedroom into a home gym just yet—you're not quite done.
Many parents don't want to think about it, but preparing for a health emergency is a must when sending a child off to college, said BOK Financial® Trust Officer Mike Sears.
"Parents don't always recognize this as a need," said Sears. "Because, to you, they're kids; they're dependents for laundry and tax purposes. But in the eyes of a healthcare system, they're legal adults, which means you'll need documentation in place to allow you access to medical information and records in the event of a health emergency."
HIPAA regulations restrict medical personnel from sharing the medical information of any individual 18 and older with anyone, including a parent. But with a properly executed power of attorney or HIPAA waiver, parents can receive information and be involved in decision making.
Parents should secure three documents before sending their students off to school, Sears said:
- A general power of attorney: This document authorizes a designated person to make financial decisions on the student's behalf. For example, if a student is experiencing a medical emergency that pulls them out of school, the parent could have access to financial aid, tuition, tax returns, etc.
- Healthcare power of attorney: This document grants an individual permission to make medical decisions for someone who is incapacitated or unable to give informed consent.
- HIPAA authorization: This form authorizes the release of some medical records to a designated recipient and does not have to be notarized. It allows the individual to stipulate which parts of their medical records remain private.
Part of an estate plan
"It would be helpful for parents to visit with an estate attorney to determine which of these three is the most pertinent for your family," said Becky Godfrey, a trust officer with BOK Financial. "Typically, the most important one when sending your child off to college is the healthcare power of attorney."
Often a HIPAA waiver is built into that document, Godfrey added.
"If you don't have an estate plan, you can still have these documents done independently of that," said Sears. "But maybe let this documentation serve as the catalyst to create an estate plan."
Even if your child is healthy, Sears said the pandemic has elevated the importance of taking these steps so you can be there for your child if disaster were to strike.
"For example, if your child gets COVID and gets put on a ventilator and isn't able to communicate, as a parent you're going to want as much information as possible—and the ability to make decisions on treatment and care," said Sears. "And having the healthcare power of attorney will give you that access."
How to get started
Having a HIPAA waiver or power of attorney in place is essentially a safeguard against teens, well, being teens. "At 18 or 19, it may not be reasonable to expect your child to remember to name you as the emergency contact on every form and file these sorts of documents on their own," said Sears. "This is just covering those bases."
Sears recommends that these documents be prepared by a qualified attorney.
Additional recommendations for parents:
- Keep a copy of all the documents. Dorm rooms aren't always a safe bet.
- Don't forget to re-visit the documents during any life events, like graduation or marriage, or location changes, like transferring schools.
- The documents will require signatures from everyone involved, so plan accordingly if your child is attending college out-of-state.