Health Care Directives and Other Legal Documents Every College Student Needs
Updated: Mar 24
Once a person turns 18, they are considered an independent adult, which means parents will no longer have access to their records, doctors, or any other important information in an emergency. Typically, when a student leaves for college, they are excited at the prospect of complete autonomy and independence, but it is important to speak with them about the significance of the documents below, and your role in the process.
So what documents do I need?
Power of Attorney—Allows your young adult to designate you or another trusted adult as their financial agent. It gives the agent permission to access bank accounts and act financially on the child’s behalf if an emergency arises. This document covers activities such as paying bills, filing tax returns, buying or selling assets, applying for government benefits, and opening or closing of accounts.
Advance Health Care Directive—Allows young adults to appoint someone they trust to act as their health care agent if they become incapacitated and unable to speak for themselves. It specifies their wishes regarding long-term care, life support, and donation of organs.
HIPAA Authorization—Ensures that their agent can communicate immediately with the young adult’s health care providers and access important medical records. The young adult can revoke these powers at any time.
What do these documents do?
Even after your student turns 18 and is considered an adult in the eyes of the law, you may still need to act on their behalf in the case of medical emergencies, tax matters, and other business transactions. However, privacy laws prevent your access to important information. Preparing these three essential legal documents now will ensure that you can act on your young adult’s behalf when needed.
Why is this important?
Let me present a hypothetical:
You're driving away from your student's dream college after helping them move into their dorm room. You're worried, naturally. Like any parent would be. But you know they are surrounded by a supportive community, and you've spent the past 18 years raising them to be independent, driven, generous, and compassionate. You've set them up for success.
The first month is going great! Your student has made friends, is doing well in class, and is managing to eat three complete meals a day (wild!). You're watching the news one night, and catch a brief segment about an illness that is spreading quickly throughout various parts of the world. Your gut is telling you that something isn't right, but you don't want to be one of those over-reacting parents, so you bite your tongue.
Two weeks pass. You haven't heard from your student in a few days, but that's hardly unusual. Then at around 6:45 am, you receive a phone call from an unknown number. Normally you would send the call to voicemail, but your parental instinct tells you to pick up the phone. It's an administrator at your student's college.
There's been an outbreak.
Your student is sick and in the hospital because the health center on campus was at capacity. You call the hospital to try and reach your student, but are informed that they are unable to share any information with you because your student is a legal adult. They won't tell you anything about their condition or where they are located within the confines of the hospital.
However, you have your student's power of attorney, the HIPAA authorization, and most importantly, their health care directive. You send a copy of the documents to the hospital, and a nurse is able to update you with pertinent information about your student.
This hypothetical is not meant to scare you, merely to express the gravity of the potential situations that may arise, and the importance of these documents. This may sound sensationalized, but unfortunately it is all too common. Whether a pandemic, a broken bone, a serious car accident, or a severe allergic reaction, you will need these documents to help your student navigate these stressful situations.
Given the current state of the world, and our personal experiences, we realized the importance of providing these documents as part of our services. In a perfect world, we hope you never need them. But, we would rather you have them and not need them, than need them and not have them.
If you have additional questions, please feel free to reach out to the contact information below.
Good luck (but I know you won't need it),
Independent College Counselor
Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors
In conjunction with:
Dana Green, JD
The Law Office of Dana L. Green, APC