How to Protect Your Child Away at College

It has become something of a rite of passage for many. A child turns 18 and the family packs up the car to bring them to college. For many kids and parents alike, this is a time of immense change. For the first time the child will be on their own and the parent will be unable to immediately protect the child. While this can be an unnerving proposition, we assure you that there are steps to take to mitigate the stress and worry.

Once your child reaches 18 years of age, they are legally an adult. Many of the rights you take for granted as a parent cease to exist because of the child’s new-found legal status. This coming of age means the parent no longer has a right to be involved in the child’s decision making. But these parental rights can be preserved through a properly executed legal plan.    

When creating your estate plan, you should be mindful to ask your attorney about addressing these issues. At Rosenblum Law, we are able to help parents include these safety nets in their estate plan at their request. We are here to provide assistance for parents who are unsure of how to effectively keep their child safe from afar.  

With our comprehensive package of advance directives, we can assist you in establishing precautionary measures to ensure you, as a parent, are not barred from helping your child in an emergency. The process is as simple as completing these documents at the same time you complete the rest of your estate plan.  

What Is the Documentation Needed?

We will discuss four documents that can be effective in caring for your child once they are living away at school. These documents include:

  • power of attorney for healthcare;
  • HIPAA authorization form;
  • living will; and
  • durable power of attorney for finances. 

Each of these serve a different purpose which, when taken in conjunction with one another, create a wide safeguard that can ease the worry of parents and their children alike.

Power of Attorney for Healthcare

A durable power of attorney for healthcare allows the principal, which in this case would be the child 18 or older, to name a competent adult to have authority to make medical decisions on their behalf. This is useful in the event that the child becomes hospitalized or incapacitated and is therefore unable to make their own medical decisions.

Without a power of attorney for healthcare, the parent would have no legal authority to make any decisions or review any medical information regarding the child. Under New Jersey law, a power of attorney can be “durable,” which means the document remains in effect if the grantor becomes incapacitated.   

Without a power of attorney for healthcare in place, a parent could be left in the dark if their child were to experience a medical emergency. Luckily, there is a document that allows parents, who have spent the past 18+ years caring for their child, to continue to exercise parental instincts to keep the child well.

HIPAA Authorization Form

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted in 1996 to help ensure privacy of individuals’ medical records. While this may seem like a boon for individuals who hold their privacy in high regard, it can also be detrimental to parents who expect the ability  to be involved in their children’s medical decisions.

A HIPAA authorization form allows the child to grant medical providers permission to disclose protected medical information with people of the child’s choosing. By creating a HIPAA authorization form, the parent will be able to pierce the HIPAA veil and access relevant medical information regarding their child.  

Without this form, the parent would be prohibited from learning this information due to HIPAA.  As a legal adult, the child has a government-recognized right to privacy and the parent no longer has a right to involvement in their child’s medical care. This document can rectify this issue as it will allow the parent(s) to be named as people with whom healthcare providers can disclose the child’s medical information. We recommend speaking with an estate planning attorney to make sure your parental role is preserved in these situations.

Living Will

The living will is a document that can be very helpful for people of all ages, college students included. The living will is a comprehensive directive that allows one to outline their medical treatment wishes in the event that they are to become incapacitated and unable to make their own medical decisions. Here, one is allowed to outline religious treatment wishes, they can refuse treatment in certain situations, and outline what types of treatment they would or would not like to receive.  

What makes this directive especially useful is that it can alleviate the stress of choosing a course of treatment that may fall on one’s family during a time of great stress. It eliminates the need for second guessing and ambiguity because the incapacitated person themself will have already made these decisions ahead of time.  

In the New Jersey Supreme Court’s landmark 1976 case, Karen Quinlan’s parents were found to not have the authority to request their incapacitated daughter have her ventilator removed.  Quinlan then persisted in a noncognitive, vegetative state for ten more years. Quinlan had slipped into a coma without a living will and therefore the court found that the decision by her parents and doctors to remove her ventilator would amount to homicide.

When time is of the essence, having a living will can be of vital importance. By creating this directive ahead of time, your family can breathe easier because they will know that there is a concrete plan of action in the event that you or your child needs immediate medical treatment.  We recommend speaking with an estate planning attorney if you believe a living will is right for yourself or your college-age child.

Power of Attorney for Finances

Similar to a power of attorney for healthcare, a durable power of attorney for finances allows the named agent to make decisions with regard to the finances of an incapacitated or unavailable person. For parents of college students, it may be difficult to ensure that your child is financially stable during the first few years on their own. The durable power of attorney for finances allows the agent to manage the principal’s finances. Terms can be specified to determine when the agent would gain authority, but it can be designed to take effect in the event of incapacity or unavailability.

A durable power of attorney for finances can afford the agent great power over finances. These powers can include, but are not limited to:

  • accessing the principal’s bank account;
  • making rent payments;
  • otherwise handling financial affairs; and
  • signing contracts.

Having the ability to pay the child’s rent, pay their bills, buy books, or address whatever financial matters the child may have, can provide a level of ease for both the parent and the child.  For example, perhaps a child studies abroad during college. Having a parent in the United States who has access to the student’s finances can prove to be immensely valuable.  

Why These Documents Are Right for You and Your Family

As a legal adult, your children will be out of your control once they head off to college.  Whether the child goes to a school that is near or far, these comprehensive directives can help to minimize the potential issues that can arise from the physical distance between you all. These directives enable a parent(s) to care for the child as they have for the child’s entire life.

They are meant to be a safety net in the event of an emergency and can be tailored to be effective for as long or short a timeframe as you and your child desire. Here at Rosenblum Law, we can help you to act preemptively by including these documents when you create your estate plan with us.

Our experienced estate planning team can help you and your child sort through these issues and create the best, most effective plan. In doing so, you and your child will sleep better at night with both of you knowing your child is safe. Contact a Rosenblum Law estate planning attorney today to ensure your family is protected. For a free consultation, call us at 888-235-9021.

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