Books? Check. Dorm? Check. Tuition? Check. Estate plan? HIPAA? What???
So your high school senior is headed off to college this fall. Congratulations! Things are about to change. Chances are, you’ve thought about many of them. But it is probably a safe bet that most parents have not given much thought to estate planning issues for their soon-to-be freshmen. (Honestly, a lot of parents haven’t thought about estate planning for themselves, but we’ll address that issue at another time.)
So, why does a teenager entering college need to think about estate planning? Here is the first reason: chances are that your freshman will be turning 18 in the near future. In most states, this means that your child will (no matter what you think) legally be considered an adult. And, in an estate planning context, you may no longer have a number of rights regarding your child.
The thing that surprises most parents is that, even if you are paying their tuition, if they get sick at school, you may have no rights to any information about their illness. If a child is no longer a minor, you are no longer their legal guardian and no longer have the right to make decisions on their behalf. So if you call the college infirmary and ask for information about your child, they may tell you that they have no authorization to give you any details.
HIPAA was passed by Congress to provide privacy rights concerning health information. In order to work your way around the privacy issue, before your child leaves home, have them sign a HIPAA release, and/or a health care proxy, giving you rights to any information you may need in a health care setting. The school’s health care facility should have one and you should keep one at home as a backup.
While this information may be news to you now, it is better to be surprised now than when you need access to information about your child who is now, at least in the eyes of the law, an adult. You should consult an experienced estate planning attorney to see if there are other legal documents that may be recommended for your specific situation.