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Those of you with adult children in college, quite naturally, are often reluctant to think about what might happen to your kids in an emergency. But it’s important for you to have a plan in place in the unlikely event that you will need to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of your college-student children.
You need to take three steps to ensure you are legally authorized to take action for your children in the event of an emergency: becoming designated as your child’s health care agent through a health care proxy or health care durable power of attorney; being granted access to your child’s financial information through a financial durable power of attorney; and being listed as ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts on your children’s cellphones.
Once college students reach the age of majority (18 in most states), they are legally considered adults, and their parents are no longer entitled to see their medical or financial records or able to make decisions on their behalf. You may wrongly assume that if you’re paying for all or part of your children’s tuition, that you are allowed to access your children’s documents. But the legal truth is once students attain the age of legal majority, they have a legal right to privacy and the right to govern their own lives. That’s why it’s so important that you and your children discuss ways you can act on their behalf should an emergency happen.
The health care proxy or health care durable power of attorney: This is a legal document by which a person authorizes a parent, other relative, or trusted family friend, to serve as his or her health care agent. It gives the agent the authority to make medical care decisions and access medical records for a person should he or she become incapacitated. An individual can only name one other person at a time to serve as health care agent. However, individuals can be successively named. Students should also sign what is known as a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) release that gives medical practitioners permission to share information with those named on it. If possible, students should carry a copy of the proxy in a wallet. It is also advisable to have a signed electronic copy available to be emailed to any emergency room.
Financial durable power of attorney: A financial durable power of attorney is a document by which someone gives access to his or her financial information to a specific person, who is called the “named attorney in fact.” (A “durable” power of attorney is one that is not revoked if the individual who granted it becomes disabled or incapacitated). In most cases the document goes into effect when it is signed. For most students, the purpose of the financial durable power of attorney is to give their parents access to financial college records and banking information, and to enable them to access or pay credit card bills and deal with a landlord. Unlike a health care proxy, the financial durable power of attorney can be given to more than one person at a time. The student can also designate successors in the durable power of attorney and may revoke it at any time. All powers of attorney (durable and nondurable) are revoked at death.
Programming cellphone or smartphone with ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts: Adding ICE contacts to your cellphone allows first responders to get in touch with emergency contacts if you are incapacitated and can’t communicate. If a student is in a car accident or other emergency and can’t communicate, a first responder can call an ICE contact on his or her phone to let a loved one know what has happened.
Though no one likes to think about their loved ones suffering an accident, it’s still important to have a plan in place in the event of one. Taking these security measures can bring you peace of mind and can help your college student children take their first steps into estate planning. Talking about health care proxies, the financial durable power of attorney, and ICE programming is an excellent way for you to begin an ongoing discussion about responsibility and structure with your adult children.