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Must Knows Before Sending Your Adult Child off to College

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By Juli Findling, Paralegal

Is your adult child going off to college this fall?  This can be an exciting but stress-filled time. In addition to worries of their academic success or failure, what if they get sick or hurt?  Statistics show that these things DO happen on college campuses in increasing numbers each year.  But there are a handful of legal documents that can provide safeguards to you and your child that may just offer a modicum of peace of mind, especially – and you may not want to hear this – now that you no longer have dominion over them in the eyes of the law.

HIPAA Authorization Form

If your son or daughter is involved in a serious accident or becomes ill and is taken to the hospital while away at school, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), a federal law that safeguards access to an adult’s private health data, prohibits medical providers from revealing health information to you – or anybody else – about your child’s medical condition. What does this mean? First and foremost, if this signed medical release (HIPAA Medical Release Form) is not on file, it will be up to the care provider whether to share any information with you.  In the event your child were unconscious or incapacitated, without legal authorization, the only other way to obtain information regarding your child’s medical condition would be through a court appointed guardian – and appointment of that type can take time you may not have.  Violating HIPAA laws can pose steep fines, and even jail time, to medical providers who are charged with violating HIPAA laws.

So, having this HIPAA medical release form that conforms with federal laws, ready to send to a medical provider in case of an emergency, is a must have.

Healthcare Power of Attorney Form

A Healthcare Power of Attorney naming you as your son or daughter’s “medical agent” will not only give you the ability to view his or her medical records, but, more importantly, make informed medical decisions on his or her behalf, if needed. Without this document or a court-appointed guardianship, healthcare decisions concerning your adult child’s diagnosis and/or treatment will be solely in the hands of healthcare providers. While this is not always a bad thing, a physician’s primary duty is to keep the patient alive. So, while a different or more aggressive course of medical action might offer better results, a provider may avoid pursuing one, for fear of increasing the risk of exposure to liability.

Most doctors prefer to see one medical agent named in this document, rather than multiple. The concern is that multiple, jointly named, medical agents may not agree on a medical course of action, and this could delay or complicate treatment. As a best practice, it’s better to name multiple agents, in priority order, with single authority.  For example, the child’s mother might be listed first as the medical agent; if the mother is unable or unwilling to serve in that capacity, the second person listed, let’s say the father, would be empowered to step in.

General Durable Power of Attorney

Finally, if your adult child becomes incapacitated, you could benefit from their having a General Durable Power of Attorney in place, where you are named as the “agent” authorized to make financial decisions on his or her behalf. This would allow you to manage bank accounts, pay bills, sign tax returns, apply for government benefits, break or apply for a lease, and conduct similar activities relating to your child’s financial and legal affairs. Without one, you will not be able to help your child manage his or her financial affairs without a court-appointed conservatorship.

Now, if you happen to think, “This will never happen to my kid; he’s too studious, quiet or introverted”, just be aware that accidents causing “unintentional injuries” are the leading cause of death for young adults ages 18 to 24, and each year more than 250,000 Americans between ages 18 and 25 are hospitalized with non-lethal injuries.

So, consider getting these important legal documents in order, and make sure to update them every couple of years. This is especially critical for Powers of Attorney, as the institutions most likely use them – such as hospitals and banks – may refuse to honor them if they are outdated.  Also keep in mind that for adult children attending college out-of-state, parents will want to have separate documents prepared by qualified attorneys in both the student’s home state and college state to ensure compliance with each state’s laws.


For more information regarding these legal documents or any other estate planning concern, please contact us at 404-255-7400 or info@hoffmanestatelaw.com.


  • Juli Findling

    Juli joined Hoffman & Associates in June 2018 with eight years of Paralegal experience in the area of civil litigation with Robertson, Bodoh & Nasrallah, LLP. Prior to that, she dedicated five years to working as an Associate Care Specialist with Innovative Outsourcing, Inc. after working as a Systems Analyst in the corporate arena, including General Motors, Inc.’s headquarters in Warren, MI, and American Software, Inc. in Atlanta, GA.

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