Teenagers off to College?

This time of year is always so exciting for parents and their graduating teenagers. Proms. Parties. Pictures. Graduations. Prepping for college. But before you do all that, there is something else parents should consider for your high school graduate: their estate plan.

You are asking . . . “why would my high school graduate need estate planning if he/she is physically healthy and otherwise, financially destitute?” Well, because in the eyes of the law, your newly minted 18-year-old high school graduate, is a legal adult who is responsible for their own medical and financial decisions. Which is a very hard concept to accept by every Mom and Dad because their teenager can’t seem to remember to clean their own room. But, indeed this fact is true. Just imagine if your son or daughter is away at school and he/she has an accident, becomes ill or even incapacitated. A hospital, doctor or nurse, cannot, by law, disclose any information to you about your own child’s medical condition without the proper legal documents in place. The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Law, makes it illegal for any medical personnel or hospital to disclose or discuss private medical information with anyone that you have not given consent to. Additionally, the university or college that you are footing the bill for, is likewise forbidden to disclose any information. The same hold true for financial institutions. Due to privacy laws and fraud protection, banks, credit card companies, cell phone companies, etc. will not talk with anyone that has not been authorized by the account holder.

What is a parent to do? Before your son or daughter goes off to college you need to set up an appointment with Attorney Patricia Bloom-McDonald who will advise you that prior to leaving for college, every person 18 years-old or older should sign three basic legal documents: 1) a HIPAA release; and 2) a healthcare proxy; and 3) a durable power of attorney document. These three legal documents, will enable parents to get the information they need to make legal and medical decisions for their son or daughter should they not be able to make the medical and legal decisions for themselves.

Health Care Proxy(HCP) – This is a legal document in which you designate a person [an agent] to make your medical decisions, if you are unable to make them yourself. It is only effective if the person is unable to articulate their own needs or when a doctor indicates in that you are incapable of making medical decisions. Every HCP should have a primary agent and an alternate agent.

HIPAA Release– The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) preserves the privacy of your medical information. It prohibits access to your private medical information. Without this legal document, medical providers are prohibited from disclosing medical information to family members so they can assist each other with medical issues such as insurance, finding out about test results, speaking to a doctor or pharmacy about a prescription. In a HIPAA Release, you authorize the people listed on the document to have access to his/her medical information. The HIPAA agent can fax or give a copy of the HIPAA Release to the medical provider and then the medical provider will be allowed to speak with that person.

Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA)– This is a legal document in which you designate who you want to make legal and financial decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. A DPOA should be extremely comprehensive. It should allow the agent to handle essentially all legal and financial matter that may arise. It is very important that you only pick people whom you trust to be your agent. It is also important that the DPOA have a primary agent and an alternate agent who acts only if the primary agent is unable.

Therefore, between the last graduation party and the first trip to the stores for college supplies, be sure to call Attorney Patricia Bloom-McDonald, (508) 646-9888 to set an appointment for your College Student to discuss these legal documents, their ramifications, and answer any questions the student and his/her parents may have.