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Back to School: The Document Every College-bound Student Should Sign
“The best thing about kids… is making them!” quips Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School. Of course, the 1986 film’s farcical take on students and university life omits the many precious and fulfilling years spent raising a child toward adulthood. As you send your child off to college (or to work away from home), add one more item to your to-do list. In addition to such tasks as mailing the care package or emailing your love, ask your child to sign a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
This legal form allows an individual to empower another with decisions regarding his or her healthcare and medical treatment. It may surprise you to learn that parents do not automatically have the right to obtain health care information (or manage money) for their kids who are 18 and older. Without proper authorization, medical providers cannot share or discuss a child’s medical condition, diagnosis, or treatment.
Even if you pay tuition or cover your grown child on your health insurance, you may not be informed or able to intercede if your child falls ill while away from your home.
A health care power of attorney allows a child to designate an agent (usually a parent) to make medical decisions when he or she can’t. Properly drafted, the document also provides the named agent access to medical records.
Consider the story of the college student, perfectly healthy when he left for school at the age of 18. In the first semester, he developed a severe infection that sent him to the university infirmary.
Lacking a health care power of attorney, his parents knew nothing about their son’s hospitalization until learning about it from the child’s roommate – and even then, the parents found that doctors refused to discuss the young man’s condition, citing privacy concerns. The parents were handcuffed from coordinating care because of the lack of legal authority.
Regarding financial matters, a more general Durable Power of Attorney (POA) may be the right choice. Similar to its health care counterpart, the POA allows an agent (parent) to act on the child’s behalf, if need be, in a variety of financial and legal matters.
A POA, for example, grants you access to your child’s grades and transcripts, again, you hold no automatic authority to request this information even though you may be paying the tuition.
Many schools offer pre-drafted forms that will provide parents access to medical, financial, and academic records. Check with your child’s college administration office to see if this less expensive option may be available to you. And if you’re looking for a simple way to help manage your child’s finances, co-owning a joint bank account gives you authority to act without the need for legal documents.
Ready for your child to sign a POA, but unsure how to ask? Find the tactic that works best for you: an open conversation, making the document a condition of tuition payments, or having your family lawyer spell out the importance of signing.
This act of responsibility can even serve as a rite of passage and a learning experience for your child, as well as make sure you can care for your distant child if the unforeseen strikes.