Are You Sure Your College Freshman Has Everything?

While the stress of getting your new college Freshman off to school may have subsided, are you sure you didn’t forget anything? Towels? A semesters worth of toothpaste and deodorant (because we know they won’t go to the store for that)? How about a designation of healthcare surrogate? A HIPAA authorization form for mom and dad back home? How about a living will or a durable power of attorney?

While the last few items may seem odd, they can be essential and calming for parents that are states away from their child who is living on their own for the first time. Your child, who is now 18 years old, is an adult. Gone are the days of doctors and teachers speaking freely about medical information or grades. Now that your Freshman is an adult, these folks, and many others, are no longer allowed to talk to you with the right paperwork in place.

Imagine getting a call from your child’s new roommate saying “we are on the way to the hospital because John has passed out and is non-responsive.” The doctors aren’t going to talk to you (or John’s roommate) without permission from John because he is 18 now and is an adult. HIPAA laws make it illegal for doctors to speak to anyone unless the patient has given express written consent to the doctor to do so. Even if John has a HIPAA authorization form, without a designation of healthcare surrogate you can’t make decisions regarding John’s health.

HealthCare Surrogates

The Florida Legislature has insured everyone’s right to pre-designate a healthcare surrogate. A healthcare surrogate is an individual, usually a spouse or close friend, who is assigned the right to make health care decisions for you in the event that you are unable to do so. Further, this designation as a healthcare surrogate necessarily requires medical professionals to give your medical status to the person designated as the surrogate. Generally, the scope of the information is limited to what is necessary to know in order to effectively evaluate the decisions that need be made. More information regarding the designation of a Healthcare Surrogate is outlined in Florida Statute Chapter 765, Part II – HEALTH CARE SURROGATE.

HIPAA Authorization Forms

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (generally referred to as HIPAA) laws require that medical care professionals not share your medical history without your express consent (unless it is being shared with other medical professionals to give treatment). A HIPAA authorization designates who is able to be told about your medical condition. Without this form, a spouse cannot find out about another spouse’s medical condition – a parent cannot find out about the status of their adult child’s medical needs. A well drafted and properly executed HIPAA authorization is essential. While there is no one standard form to cover every situation, an experienced attorney with knowledge of estate planning can draft a form that will satisfy even the most scrutinizing health care administrator.

Living Will

The best possible example of a Living Will (and also one of the saddest) for Floridan’s is Terry Schiavo. If you watched the news in the early 2000s, you could not see a news broadcast without an update on Ms. Schiavo. For those who don’t know, Ms. Schiavo suffered brain damage back in the early 1990s. By the early 2000s, Florida Courts declared Ms. Schiavo brain dead. At this point, had Ms. Schiavo had a living will, all of the doctors would have known what Ms. Schiavo’s wishes were – to keep the feeding tube or remove the feeding tube. Because Ms. Schaivo did not have a living will, the Schaivo family and the Governor of Florida spent years in Court battles arguing about what Ms. Schaivo would have wanted. A properly executed living will covers situations like this one, and many others, ranging from persistent vegetate state to terminal conditions, and instruct all those around you of your wishes should you be unable to communicate them to others. More information can be found in the Florida Statutes Chapter 765 – PART III LIFE-PROLONGING PROCEDURES.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney can be both a tool of convenience and necessity. I like to explain to my clients that whomever you appoint as your power of attorney can do any action as if they were you. Need a new credit card? Your power of attorney can sign you up. Need to sign a deed or a mortgage? Your power of attorney can do that for you. A well drafted and properly executed durable power of attorney nominates another individual (again, usually a spouse or close friend) to act on your behalf. Documents like these are convenient when filling out a child’s college FAFSA applications because, without the durable power of attorney authorizing you to sign the FAFSA on their behalf, you could be committing a crime. A wealth of information regarding what a durable power of attorney can cover is available in the Florida Statutes in Chapter 709 – PART II POWERS OF ATTORNEY.

Finish the Checklist!

Forms like a designation of healthcare surrogate and HIPAA authorization forms are a couple of the many items that likely don’t make it to any college Freshman’s move in list. Often, these things don’t make it on the parent’s lists either. It is important to sit down with an estate planning attorney to make sure that you and your new college Freshman are covered. With over 45 years of experience and commitment to the families of Volusia and Flagler County, the attorney’s at Chiumento Dwyer Hertel Grant are here to make sure everyone has the peace of mind they deserve should the unexpected occur.

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