By now, most students have already headed for college. They’re busy with orientation, new curriculums, and figuring out how to navigate life away from home. If you’re the parent of a college student, you probably think your job’s done—at least for a few months. But do you have legal medical documents for your child? You should! Here’s why.

Imagine this scenario. Your college-age child is hundreds of miles away and you receive a call that he/she has been in a serious accident and is injured or incapacitated. You’ll likely experience a whirlwind of emotions and questions. What has happened? Is my child okay? Where is he/she? You contact the hospital and speak with the medical staff only to discover they can’t provide you with the information you so desperately need.

Wait, what? That’s correct. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, states that once your child reaches age 18 and becomes a legal adult, your ability to obtain medical information or make medically-based decisions on your child’s behalf is limited. To avoid potential legal ramifications for violation of client confidentiality, all medical staff are required, by law, to follow HIPAA regulations.

So, What Can a Parent Do?

The uncertainty of not knowing if your child is safe can leave a parent paralyzed with fear and unsure of how to proceed. But you don’t have to live through this scenario. In order to guarantee your ability to obtain information in case of an emergency or have the ability to make decisions on your child’s behalf if he/she is incapacitated, you and your child should consider completing the following documents:

  • HIPAA Authorization Form. The HIPAA Authorization form allows for medical providers to disclose medical information to those specified in the document. Authorized parties are granted the right to request and obtain pertinent information regarding a child’s health status and plans for treatment. But that doesn’t necessarily mean full disclosure. This form can also ensure that certain specified information be withheld from disclosure; things such as medical issues arising from drug usage or mental health.
  • Medical Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy. This document permits your child to appoint an agent (or agents) to act on his/her behalf concerning medically based situations. The agent can make decisions pertaining to treatment options or reject a proposed course of treatment suggested by the medical staff. Without this form, the healthcare provider will become the decision maker. That isn’t necessarily a negative; however, the healthcare provider may not arrive at the same decision you, or your child, would prefer.
  • Durable Power of Attorney. This document is broader in its powers. It allows for the acting agent, or parent in this case, to obtain financial documents, enter into legal contracts and sign leases on a child’s behalf. It’s important to note that the agent will hold these authorized powers whether or not a medical situation is present. Obviously, trust is a necessary component to grant this degree of authorization. 

To confirm these documents are structured accurately and according to law, be sure to convey your wishes and expectations to an attorney. Laws vary from state to state. These documents need to be created specifically for the state in which you reside and the state in which your child attends school.

Acceptance of these documents is determined by the institution receiving them, so accurate structuring is crucial. If you work with a lawyer, you’ll likely avoid any push back from the institution if your child should have a medical emergency. These documents should be reviewed on a consistent basis so the receiving institution will be confident the information is current. 

Your child can revoke these documents, both verbally and in writing, at any time. This provides your child some assurance that he/she has complete control over his/her confidential medical information. And you are assured that if you ever do receive that unwelcome phone call, you’ll be legally prepared to make those decisions on your child’s behalf.


Similar to other precautionary measures we take to protect ourselves and our families, we hope we’ll never need to utilize these documents. Nevertheless, proper planning now can alleviate some stress if your child is hurt or incapacitated while he/she is away from home.

Mathew Ryan is a Financial Planning Specialist with Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. For more information, visit their website or email Mathew.

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