College Students Should Add Powers of Attorney to Back-to-School Checklist

When we think of the long list of items that college students need to think about before heading back to campus in the fall, legal documents are likely not high on the list.  However, college students should consider executing a power of attorney, medical power of attorney, and a HIPAA disclosure authorization before leaving home.

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.

These issues can arise in a variety of ways.  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, 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.  Another instance where issues can arise is if the child travels overseas on a study abroad trip and has issues with his or her credit card being use in a foreign country.  A financial power of attorney would allow the parents to step in and deal with any issues on the child’s behalf.

Taking the time to execute a few simple documents can save a lot of headache should a situation arise.

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. The Texas statutory form may be found here.  The form allows the person executing the POA to include limitations on the powers of the agent or to provide additional specific instructions.  The financial 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 medical decisions in the event the signor is unable to make those decisions for himself or herself.  The form can become effective immediately, but more often is written to become effective only when the signor is deemed incapacitated by a physician.  Like the power of attorney, Texas offers a statutory form that merely requires the student filling in the blanks and properly executing with either witnesses or a notary. The Texas statutory form may be found here.

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.  The signor may indicate which types of information are allowed to be disclosed to identified individuals and which may not be disclosed. This form need only be signed by the individual and does not require a notary or witnesses.

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.

{For more info about end of life planning documents, listen to my podcast interview with Andy Crocker.}

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