If your child is approaching age 18 and heading to college or other school, consider having him/her sign a Health Care Proxy and also a Durable Power of Attorney which will allow you to make financial and medical decisions for them if they are unable to do so. (These documents will name you and/or someone else as primary and alternate Agents for financial and medical treatment decision-making.)
Once your child signs the documents, forward copies of at least the Health Care Proxy to the infirmary at your child's school, so it can be included with their Health History form and insurance information. (In my opinion, it's not necessary to provide copies of the Durable Power of Attorney, which is for emergency financial decision-making. You can always fax the Durable Power of Attorney to the school's business office and/or the local bank if necessary). But the Health Care Proxy should be on-file with the infirmary or Health Office at your child's school from the beginning.
These documents are state-specific and can be modified to include language which requires parent(s) or other trusted third parties to be notified in the event of medical/mental illness. If your child attends school out of state, language can easily be included which confirms that both documents are intended to be effective in any state needed.
Here’s Why It’s Important.
During my partner’s son’s freshman year, a good friend of his from the dorm required hospitalization. The boy's parents were out of state, and he did not have a Health Care Proxy. (Not many college students do.) The 18-year-old kid who accompanied his friend to the hospital ended up being named as his friend's Health Care Agent (these forms are usually presented at the hospital upon admission). He’s a great kid, but naming him as Health Care Agent was probably not a good idea. If the hospitalized boy needed anesthesia or was rendered unable to speak for himself, the 18-year-old friend would have been required to make the decisions. I would not really want to put my son in that position.
Just as Important.
College can be a very difficult and stressful time for some students, and I’ll always wonder if healthcare problems, especially mental health crises, can be avoided if a student’s parents are immediately notified of their child’s healthcare problems. A Health Care Proxy which names parents as Health Care Agents and is modified to require parents or another trusted adult to be notified of medical/mental treatment or therapy might make all the difference in the world to responsible parents. Once your child is 18, he or she is legally able to sign such a document. With the right document, all of the HIPAA privacy rules can be waived.
These documents are not intended as an invasion of the child's privacy but rather, they can be designed to ensure that the correct parties are called in the event of an emergency. Most of all, I want to be one of the first people notified if my child has a medical emergency while away at school.
The planning really only works where the student (who must be over the age of 18) is a willing participant. In most families, this would not be a problem and having the student sign a Health Care Proxy (regardless of whether or not the student will attend school out of town), is a practical idea.
Here’s a serious example. Your student suffers traumatic head injuries in a bad car accident. Because the accident victim is a minor, his parents can make all medical treatment decisions for him, including choosing the course of therapy and treatment as well as the facilities and providers of services. In this case, the accident victim was eventually discharged from the hospital to a reputable traumatic brain injury facility.
But what happens when the victim is 18 (the age of majority in Florida)? With no Health Care Proxy in place, parents no longer have legal authority to oversee care. At that point, the hospital or rehab facility can demand that the parents bring Court proceeding to secure their appointment as legal Guardians. Such proceedings can be long and expensive, and if split-families disagree, the proceedings may be even longer and more costly. It just seems simple to have a Health Care Proxy signed when you leave for school.
Let your students take care of magazine subscriptions, dorm décor and school supplies. Then help them get a passport, figure out budgeting, and sign the Health Care Proxy/Power of Attorney. It could save you all some heartache.