Preparing for college is an emotional roller coaster for parents and students alike. As a parent, you tend to concentrate on applying for financial aid, organizing for the upcoming tuition payments and even transporting all of your child’s furniture/clothes. It is clear that this is a busy time; however, it’s important to keep something else in mind; your child’s health.
Picture this: The time has finally come to send your son away to college. A few months into the semester, you receive a call from the local hospital telling you that your son has been hospitalized. When you ask for more information, the doctor informs you that you are not entitled to receive his medical information.
Your mind starts racing as you think to yourself, “This is my child, how can this be?” The reality is, once your child is 18, he could be considered a legal adult depending on the state.
It’s not something we like to think about, but a plan should be put in place in the event an illness or accident occurs while your child is attending college. This can be done by having a Health Care Proxy set up for your child.
While normally associated with seniors and also known as a health care power of attorney, a health care proxy is an estate planning document that appoints a representative, which in this case would be you (as the parent), to make medical decisions on your adult child’s behalf should he become unable to make or communicate a responsible decision for himself.
Essentially, if your college child becomes seriously ill or injured, this document would authorize you to assign medical treatments to him. If you do not have the document in place, medical professionals generally will be compelled to act how they personally best see fit, including treatments that you might wish to bypass.
If you child is going to an out-of-state college, you should understand that each state has different rules regarding a health care proxy. Not all states permit you to have a health care power of attorney for health care issues. In Maryland, an adult, or emancipated minor who has decision-making capacity, can be authorized to handle future health care issues through a health care proxy.
If one is not put into place, a Surrogate Decision Maker will be appointed. Surrogates are listed in priority, and can range from an adult child of the patient, to a parent of the patient or a close friend of the patient.
Sending a child off to college means you are dealing with many new things: class schedules, living arrangements and extracurricular activities, to name a few.
But, while these are exciting times, it is easy to procrastinate. The risk that comes with not having a health care proxy set up for your student is incredibly high. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car accidents injure a quarter of a million teenagers a year, while less drastically, a sickness can occur at any given moment.
Once the student is older than 18 years of age, he is automatically entitled to medical record and financial privacy. Doctors cannot share his information without permission, to anyone, no matter the situation. Even if you still have him on the family health insurance plan, you are legally not allowed to make health care decisions for your student, or manage his money. The health care proxy allows you access to all of his medical information, with the added benefit of having the ability to discuss his desires about medical treatments.
In the absence of a health care proxy, it is true that a court may appoint you to represent your college student. However, this process is stressful and time-consuming.
The college journey for your child is incredibly exciting, and like most parents, you want to enjoy that excitement with him. But watching your child go away to college can be bittersweet, knowing that you no longer can be there for him on a daily basis.
Having a health care proxy set up for him before he heads off for college can allow you to go above-and-beyond in protecting your child in case of a medical emergency. You have raised him to the best of your ability up to this point, why not put one final safeguard in place?
Nicholas Ibello is wealth manager and associate vice president; and Gary S. Williams, CFP, CRPC, AIF, is the president and founder; of Williams Asset Management, in Columbia. They can be reached at 410-740-0220 or at Nick@WilliamsAsset.com or Gary@WilliamsAsset.com.