College Prep: Draft Power of Attorneys and HIPAA Release Forms

When a parent prepares to ship a kid off to college, they often think about tuition, the safety of the dorm, and making sure oil is changed in the kid’s vehicle before they leave.  A critical item that is often left off the college to do list is having three key legal documents in place:  power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and a HIPAA disclosure authorization.

Once children reach 18 years of age, their parents are no longer able to automatically make medical or financial decisions on behalf of the child.  Similarly, parents are not privy to medical information about the child.  Assume the child is in an accident while at school.  Without a HIPAA disclosure authorization, the parents likely cannot obtain information about their child’s medical condition.  Similarly, without a medical power of attorney or a financial power of attorney, the parents may be forced to spend time and money on a court proceeding to be named guardians in order to make decisions for their incapacitated child.

Taking the time to draft three simple documents can help alleviate these concerns.

Power of Attorney.  A power of attorney allows the signor (the college student) to appoint an agent to act on his or her behalf with regard to financial affairs.  The power of attorney may be general (meaning that the POA becomes effective immediately upon signing) or springing (which means that the POA is not effective until a future event or date–usually the event that the signor is declared incapacitated by a doctor).  This document allows an appointed agent to do things like pay bills, manage bank accounts, and deal with real estate issues.  Several states, including Texas, have a statutory fill-in-the-blank for that may be used to appoint a power of attorney.  Powers of attorney are governed by the Texas Estates Code Chapter 752.  The form itself may be found here.  The power of attorney must be signed before a notary.

Medical Power of Attorney.  A medical power of attorney allows an adult (the college student) to appoint an agent to make decisions in the event the signor is unable to make decisions.  This form allows the appointed agent to make medical decisions for the signor.  Many states, including Texas, offer a statutory form that merely requires the student filling in the planks and properly executing with either witnesses or a notary.  In Texas, medical powers of attorney are governed by Health and Safety Code Chapter 166.151 – 166.166.  The form itself may be found here and must be either notarized or signed before two witnesses.

HIPAA Disclosure Authorization.  The “Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” signed in 1996 was designed the protect a person’s private healthcare information from disclosure.  Generally, this is a positive, but it can be problematic in the event that an adult child is incapacitated and the parents are unable to obtain information about the care or condition of their loved one.  A simple form can help alleviate this issue.  The Texas Attorney General’s Office has published a form that may be used to authorize the disclosure of medical information to certain persons.  It may be found here.

Once executed, copies of these documents should be kept by the signor, appointed agents, and any health care professionals seen by the signor.  Usually, for college students, a copy should be kept by the student, parents, and primary care physician.

Hopefully, these documents will never be needed, but it is certainly better safe than sorry.

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