college photoMy eldest son graduates from high school this week. It’s an exciting time. He’s looking forward to going off to college. I’m excited for him.

When he turned 18 years old, I had the “talk” with him. No, not that one. That talk was some years ago. This talk was about what it means legally to turn 18 years old. The law says he is an adult. Being an adult brings with it a whole new set of rights, duties, and privileges. One area that is significant for a young man going to college is that he is now entitled to the same privacy protections as any other adult.

Many parents have a difficult time processing the whole “privacy thing”; with their college student children. Parents are paying tuition, books, expenses, and health insurance. So, most parents reason that they should still have complete access to their child’s financial and medical information. But, that’s not the way the law sees it.

In fact, health care providers and financial institutions are prohibited from disclosing your child’s private information to you unless your child has signed an authorization to do so. This arrangement is usually not a big problem. After all, you want your child to be self-sufficient, independent, and responsible.

But, what will happen if your child has an emergency? If he gets injured, will you be able to get information about his condition? Or, if he gets sick while at school, will you be able to view his medical information and talk to the doctors about the diagnosis and treatment plan? If your child becomes incapacitated while at school, are you be able to step in and help handle his finances?

The short answer to each of these questions is “no.” Unless you prepare in advance, you won’t be able to access your child’s medical or financial information even when there is an emergency. Fortunately, however, there is an easy solution. There are three simple documents your child can sign before leaving for school that can change this situation. You absolutely should not send your child to college without first signing these three documents.

Durable Power of Attorney

The Durable Power of Attorney covers your child’s financial affairs. With this simple document, you can manage your child’s finances if he becomes physically or mentally unable to manage them himself. This means you can handle everything he would handle relating to financial decisions. You can pay his bills, apply for social security benefits on his behalf, and open or close bank accounts.

Medical Power of Attorney

The Medical Power of Attorney covers your child’s medical condition. This document allows you to make medical decisions on behalf of your child if he is incapacitated and unable to make his own decisions. You will also be able to see your child’s medical records so you can make an informed decision on his behalf.

HIPAA Release

HIPAA is the acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This Act requires all health care providers and insurance companies to protect the privacy of an individual’s healthcare information. A violation of this law can result in jail time and hefty civil penalties. Needless to say, healthcare professionals take this law seriously (as they should) so you won’t be able to see your child’s medical records without this release.

The Medical Power of Attorney does include a HIPAA authorization. But, the Medical Power of Attorney does not allow you to view medical records or consult with your child’s doctors unless he is incapacitated. If your child’s doctor does not believe he is incapacitated, you will not have access to medical records under the Medical Power of Attorney.

By having your child sign a HIPAA Release before leaving for college, you ensure that you have authorization to deal with doctors and discuss your child medical diagnosis, as well as treatment options.

These three documents are relatively inexpensive. They are also easy to prepare. If your child is preparing to go off to college, you should discuss with him the need for these three documents. Obviously, you hope you never need them. But, it’s much better to have them and never need them than to need them and not have them.