Congrats, Graduates!!! (….now please sign this….)
This weekend, we went to one of several graduation parties we were invited to—several of the folks we talked to were graduation party hopping, trying to fit quick stops at multiple parties. It is definitely the season of emancipated high school seniors!
After the celebrations fade, and thoughts turn to visits to Target and Bed, Bath, and Beyond to furnish college dorm rooms, we encourage parents to also talk to their recent graduate about a few critical estate planning documents.
It sounds odd to bring up “estate planning” and “college freshman” in the same sentence, but newly minted college students face an odd legal landscape. Being over 18, they are no longer minors and are legally adults. With strict privacy laws like HIPAA, parents are no longer allowed to communicate with doctors and other medical staff on behalf of their children.
Until children over the age of 18 are married, they are in a ‘dead zone’ of no automatic legal voice in case they are unable to speak for themselves with regard to medical care. Doctors are authorized to share medical information with parents of minors or spouses, but as unmarried adults, these new high school graduates are in dangerous territory.
While it seems far fetched that this lack of medical power of attorney will actually matter, we’ve seen it in action with several of our clients—while some instances have been quite scary, some have been more on the frustrating side…like having to have your 18 year old son call the doctor to get the additional information your medical insurance company needs to pay your son’s claim! Parents are still responsible parties for students’ medical bills, but are unable to actually obtain information needed to complete claims!
So, as a graduation gift to all high school seniors, we highly recommend that parents take your child to the family attorney and get the following three documents in place:
1) Power of Attorney – A power of attorney will authorize someone to act as your agent in making financial decisions for you. So a parent, or whoever else designated as the agent, could help out with paying bills from the student’s accounts, opening and closing various financial accounts, etc. Some parents have asked if this document will help them obtain their child’s college grades…it should…but maybe that’s not the best use of it… 😉
2) Medical Power of Attorney – A medical power of attorney authorizes someone to act as you agent in making medical decisions for you in the event you were unable to speak for yourself or communicate your wishes with medical staff. This document also allows access to medical records so that the agent is able to make better decisions, and file timely insurance claims.
3) HIPAA Authorization – A HIPAA authorization allows doctors’ offices and health insurance companies permission to share your health care information with someone that you choose. Having parents able to legally communicate with their adult child’s doctors and health insurance companies is pretty important, even when there isn’t an actual medical emergency going on.
If a trip to the family attorney won’t work, then Virginia does have a few standard forms that should suffice, although they are a poor substitute for customized legal advice.
The Virginia Advance Directive was drafted by the Virginia State Bar to comply with Virginia Healthcare Decisions Act. This form just needs to be filled out (you may cross out sections that you do to want to apply…like organ donor or living will…) and then signed by two witnesses that are not related to the signor. So, grab your child and a couple of neighbors, and you are all set.
The American Bar provides a sample HIPAA Authorization Form, although there are more state specific ones available through your attorney, or local health systems like UVA or Novant.
Parents of unmarried adults—good luck with this conversation—if getting your child to sign these forms leads to more questions, there is a great resource called Five Wishes for a deeper conversation. If they just roll their eyes, sign them, and then stomp off—that works too. Totally worth it for the peace of mind.