Planning for college can simultaneously be an extremely exciting and daunting prospect. Between looking for dorms, choosing classes, and buying necessary items, the transition period between high school graduation and the first day of college is hectic. An overlooked part of this process, however, are the legal documents that parents and students should fill out to account for medical emergencies or accidents. Accidents and medical emergencies are an unpredictable aspect of college life, and an emergency room trip, however unpleasant to contemplate, may very well occur in your child’s college tenure. What parents overlook in this regard is that once their child turns eighteen they are, in most states, considered legal adults, with the protection of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This federal law protects a patient’s medical information from being released without their knowledge or consent. To avoid the potential situation of an unconscious child in the emergency room without a way to ascertain their condition or treatment, appointing a health care proxy and assigning power of attorney are essential steps you and your child should take before their first day of classes. An experienced estate planning attorney will help answer all of your questions regarding a health care proxy or power of attorney document and help create the right plan for your family.
What is a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney?
Before understanding the implications of each document, it is important to understand what a health care proxy and power of attorney are and their differences. A health care proxy, otherwise known as a medical power of attorney, appoints an adult to act as an agent with the legal right to make medical decisions for a patient in the event that they are incapacitated. A power of attorney, or durable power of attorney, appoints an adult to handle the financial affairs of a person who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make these decisions on their own. Each of these documents has a strictly defined purpose: a health care proxy does not give an agent the right to make financial decisions for an incapacitated person and a power of attorney does not give the right to make treatment decisions for a patient. In order to make both financial and medical decisions for an incapacitated person, both documents must be completed and notarized. It is also important to note that each state has a different health care proxy form, an especially important factor for the parents of students leaving their state of residence.
How Does the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Affect You?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that enforces national standards to protect sensitive patient information from being disclosed without the patient’s knowledge or consent. Once your child turns 18, you lose access to their medical records and the ability to make most medical decisions on their behalf. In the event that your child has a medical emergency and is incapacitated, you will not have access to their medical records or be allowed to make medical decisions. However, you need not worry because the HIPAA Authorization form allows patients to stipulate the medical information and records that can be released upon request to designated recipients and those they would like to remain private. This form does not need to be notarized. It is important to note that since HIPAA is a federal law, it applies in each state your child might attend college in and therefore, similar to a health care proxy, a HIPAA Authorization needs to be filled out in whatever state your child attends school in.
Preparing For Emergencies
Medical emergencies and accidents are an uncomfortable subject to approach, and first-year college students might not understand why signing a health care proxy, power of attorney, or HIPAA Authorization is important. Therefore, it is extremely important to have open family discussions regarding these documents and the emergencies they might be enacted in, and why having an attorney by your side will help to ease the tension over signing such legal documents.
The smartest method is to always air on the side of caution and be prepared for all possibilities. A college student should sign a health care proxy or power of attorney knowing that their privacy remains intact and that whatever medical treatment they may seek will remain confidential. With these documents, all family members involved will have the peace of mind that in the event of an emergency, you will be able to know your child’s condition and make the most prudent decisions for them. To schedule a consultation regarding a health care proxy or power of attorney for your child, contact the Law Office of Inna Fershteyn at (718) 333-2394.