Essential medical/financial documents for parents of college-bound child

If your child has a serious accident or illness at college, you may not be able to talk to doctors or be involved in your child's care without the right paperwork. Find out what you need to protect your family and avoid being left in the dark.

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by Jane Haskins, Esq.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

For 18 years, you have taken care of your child's medical needs. You've scheduled doctor's appointments, waited in emergency rooms, talked to healthcare providers, and made most of the decisions. So it seems natural to be involved, if your child develops major medical issues at college.

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But the law doesn't see things the same way. Once your children turn 18, they are adults whose health information is private under HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. In the eyes of healthcare providers, parents are out of the picture, unless your child has signed an authorization form allowing providers to share medical information with you.

For parents, HIPAA can be terrifying. If your child gets seriously ill or is in an accident, you may be unable to talk to doctors, get information from the hospital, or be involved in your child's care. HIPAA also can be frustrating—you may not even be able to set up a doctor's appointment for a student who's home on break.

To avoid these consequences—while still giving young adults the independence they need—there are several forms recommended for college-bound students and their parents to understand and complete.

1. HIPAA authorization form

A HIPAA authorization form gives healthcare providers permission to talk to the people you specify. College students can sign a HIPAA form allowing doctors and hospitals to talk with their parents. This keeps parents informed and involved, and gives doctors the benefit of the parents' insights into the student's medical history.

Your college-bound child may want to keep some things private, such as counseling sessions at college. That's okay—the HIPAA form allows your student to specify what kind of information can be disclosed, as well as who it can be disclosed to. You can find HIPAA authorization forms online or at your doctor's office.

2. Healthcare power of attorney

The HIPAA authorization form allows you to get information, but it doesn't give you the right to make decisions about your child's treatment. For that, you'll need a healthcare power of attorney. The power of attorney is a simple document that identifies someone to make healthcare decisions if something happens and your child becomes unable to make them themselves. Without a power of attorney, it would be up to your child's healthcare providers to decide what to do.

3. Advance directive

A healthcare power of attorney allows you to make decisions for your child, but it doesn't tell you what to do if your child's condition is so serious that he or she will never recover. The chances are slim, but horrible accidents or illnesses can happen. Parents are then left to decide what their child would have wanted done—or not done—at the end of life.

An Advance Directive, or "living will," is designed to make end-of-life decisions easier for family members and healthcare providers. In the unlikely event that an accident or illness leaves your child in a vegetative state and unable to communicate, the advance directive spells out what kind of life-prolonging or other treatments your child does or does not want to receive.

4. Durable general power of attorney

Some students and their families will benefit from having a durable general power of attorney in place. This document names someone to handle financial and legal affairs if your student becomes unable or unavailable to take care of them. It can be used for many situations, including your student's being incapacitated after an accident, or out of the country on a study abroad program. The power of attorney allows you to pay bills, file tax returns, access your child's bank account, and communicate with mobile phone providers, banks, and utility companies.

If your child is in college out of state, you may need two sets of documents—one prepared according to your home state's laws, and one that follows the laws of the state where your child is attending school. Powers of attorney are simple and affordable, and can give you peace of mind as your children begin to navigate life on their own.

Along with the excitement of launching your child into this new phase of adulthood, it's important to include discussions of serious adult documents like the HIPAA authorization form, healthcare power of attorney, living will, and durable general power of attorney. It's also a good excuse to make sure you have your own paperwork and documents in order—well before you need to access them.

Do you have the right to make healthcare decisions if your college-age child is sick or injured? LegalZoom can help you plan for the worst with financial and medical powers of attorney. The process is fast and affordable.


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Jane Haskins, Esq.

About the Author

Jane Haskins, Esq.

Jane Haskins is a freelance writer who practiced law for 20 years. Jane has litigated a wide variety of business dispute… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.