The 3 Documents Every Teen Needs Before Heading Off to College

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If your kid is about to fly the coop and head to college, you’ll want to make sure they have some key items: extra-long sheets, a laptop, a printer, their toothbrush…oh, and a few legal documents. Sure, that last one isn’t as fun to think about but as Cindy K. Campbell, practicing attorney and author of Legal Things Parents Should Know: With Occasional Wit and Sarcasm, cautions, it’s best to be proactive in the (unlikely) event that you find yourself dealing with an emergency situation. And that means understanding your legal responsibilities and getting your docs in a row (so to speak). Read on to learn more about the three critical documents your child needs before they hit the dorms.

1. HIPAA Authorization

While there’s nothing inherently dangerous about heading to college, accidents can happen anywhere and what that means with regard to your child and the medical care they receive is quite different now that they’re 18 years old. The reason for this is HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)—a federal law in place to protect an adult’s private health data. Under this law, Campbell explains that, should an accident occur that requires hospitalization, “[your 18-year-old child’s healthcare team is prohibited from sharing their condition with you—even though you are the student’s parent.” If that’s concerning to you (we’re guessing it is), then you’ll be relieved to hear that there’s an easy workaround—namely, a HIPAA authorization form, which is a legal document “signed by your adult child and naming you as an authorized party…[with] the ability to ask for and receive information from healthcare providers about your child’s health status, progress, and treatment.” (Phew.)

How to get it: Unfortunately, there is no standard HIPPA Authorization form. Instead, many providers have their own forms, which are often available on their websites. So, if you know where your kid is going to college, one option would be to find the forms of as many of the providers (doctors, hospitals, clinics) that may be involved in their potential care as possible. Alternatively, your local estate planning attorney will likely be able to provide you with a stand alone HIPAA waiver that you can bring to any healthcare facility. 

2. Healthcare Power of Attorney

Furthermore, the legal expert advises parents to have a signed Healthcare Power of Attorney naming you as a “medical agent” with the ability to not only view your child’s medical records, but also “make informed decisions on his or her behalf” should your child be unable to do so themselves (i.e., because they are unconscious or otherwise incapacitated). In the absence of this form, or a court-appointed guardianship, “healthcare decisions regarding your child’s diagnosis and treatment are solely in the hands of healthcare practitioners,” says Campbell. In other words, this document can help you avoid a situation in which both you and your child are rendered powerless in the event of a medical emergency. 

How to get it: Some hospitals may have their own forms, but it will likely stay with the hospital. Many states have their own simple Healthcare Power of Attorney form through the state’s website. This is usually a simple document that just states the names of the successor Agent(s) to make healthcare decisions. Find out about your state’s specific requirements and see sample forms here. An estate planning attorney may have more options for you on an expanded form that can cover everything from organ donation and palliative care to decisions during pregnancy. 

3. The General Durable Power of Attorney

Now let’s talk about money. In any scenario in which a child is unconscious or incapacitated, the parent should be able to make financial decisions on behalf (and in the best interest) of said child—and, yep, there’s a form for that, too. According to Campbell, “The General Durable Power of Attorney authorizes you to…manage bank accounts, pay bills, sign tax returns, apply for government benefits, break or apply for a lease, and conduct similar activities for your child’s financial and legal affairs.”

How to get it: Again, this document varies by state. You can see your state’s specific requirements and sample forms here. Similar to the Healthcare Power of Attorney, the state may provide a simple Durable Power of Attorney through the state website. For an expanded document, including power over digital assets or business powers, you may need to see an attorney. 

Chances are you will never need to wield any of the legal powers that the aforementioned documents grant you as a parent, but it’s a very good idea to have them handy just in case, as doing so will greatly reduce the stress should an unexpected event occur. (Makes sense, right?) 

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...