Three Documents Every College Student Needs to Sign

Graduating from high school is an exciting time in your child’s life. If you are anything like I was, you are probably busy with last-minute shopping, packing and worrying about roommates. However, as parents, we need to be aware that this also means that there will be a legal change in his or her status when they turn 18. Your child becomes an adult in the eyes of the law at age 18, even if he or she is still in high school. He or she is now of legal age to make decisions, sign contracts and documents, and determine medical treatments without your approval, or even knowledge. There are still times when you may have to act on your child’s behalf, which is why you need to know the three documents every college student needs.

The three documents your child needs to sign are:

1. Power of Attorney
2. Health Care Proxy or Surrogate
3. HIPPA Authorization

Why does your child need these documents?

You never know what the future holds. An issue may come up that requires a signature, and your child may not be able to handle the matter. Even worse, a medical situation could arise, and you may not have any rights without legal authorization. The risk is real. Accidents are the leading cause of death for young adults, and a quarter-million Americans between 18 and 25 are hospitalized with nonlethal injuries each year. However, it doesn’t take something nearly this dramatic for parents to need to act on a child’s behalf. The son of a friend of mine was studying abroad and had a scooter accident. Although the injuries were not life-threatening, the young man was under sedation and was unable to provide authorization for the hospital to speak to the parents for the first day. The only information that the hospital was willing to provide to the parents was that their son was “stable”. Having these documents in place would have provided information to the parents.

The first of the three documents is the Power Of Attorney. A power of attorney is a document that permits the child to designate a parent or parents to make legal decisions on his or her behalf, such as:

Dealing with financial institutions, signing leases or loan documents, arranging for renter’s or car insurance, speaking to a landlord, consulting with an educational institution or a health care provider.

In the medical context, a power of attorney is a legal document that names you as the parent a “medical agent” for your college student. What this means is that if your child becomes medically incapacitated in some way, you have the ability to make informed medical decisions on their behalf. This document can name you as the sole point of contact and decision-maker as you decide the best course of action with the doctors. The reality is that if you don’t have a healthcare or medical power of attorney in place, the doctors will be the ones who make the decisions about care.

What is a Health Care Proxy and why do we need that?

The second of the three documents is the health care proxy. Also called a medical or health care advance directive, this form permits the parents to make medical decisions for the child. You may think that this is not necessary because you are the legal next of kin. However, without proper authorization to do so, you may not be able to make a decision on your child’s behalf.

If your child is admitted to a hospital and unable to make his or her medical decisions, the power of attorney for medical decisions will allow you to discuss the situation with medical personnel and make urgent decisions regarding care.

What is a HIPAA form?

Have you ever tried to get an update about a loved one in the hospital over the phone when there’s a medical issue? If so, you know it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get the info you need if you’re not authorized. That’s because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

That is why you need a HIPPA form. This document lets a patient (your college student) designate certain family members, friends and others that they want to be apprised of their medical info during treatment.

The HIPPA form becomes extremely important if your child is living away at school and is involved in an accident, because you’re not getting any information over the phone even though you’re their parent.

What is the HIPAA Form and how is it different from the Health Care Proxy?

While the HIPAA form allows for the sharing of medical information, it does not provide parents with the ability to make decisions on the child’s behalf. That is why you need the medical proxy form.

Don’t worry if your student is already on campus and you haven’t filled these out yet. Just put it on your to-do list and get it done as soon as you can.

Keep in mind that all of these forms should be updated each year, and that you’ll need one form in your state of residence and a separate one in your child’s state of residence if they’re attending an out-of-state school.