Houston, TX -- (SBWIRE) -- 08/01/2012 -- Parents of college students may have a hard time getting information during emergencies due to strict privacy laws, according to attorney Rania Combs. That’s because when a child turns 18, they’ve reached the age of majority; that means parents no longer have access to their medical information, financial affairs or other records they may need during an emergency situation.
“Most college students continue to depend on their parents long past their 18th birthdays, but in the eyes of the law, they are legal adults entitled to certain privacy protections. Privacy laws prohibit medical providers and financial institutions from disclosing information concerning adult children to their parents – and this can be problematic during emergencies,” says Combs, a Texas attorney who works with families all over the state.
Combs warns parents that if a student becomes ill or is injured while away at school, they may be unable to pay bills and speak with creditors on the student’s behalf, or to discuss diagnoses and treatment options with medical providers.
Citing a recent case involving a mother whose access to information regarding her car accident-injured daughter was blocked by HIPAA rules, Combs suggests that the difficulties they encountered could have been prevented if the family had adequately prepared.
Before leaving for college, all students should sign three documents: a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and a HIPAA authorization, according to Combs. These forms are designed to allow others to make decisions on the student’s behalf during emergencies – like when the student is incapacitated and cannot speak for himself.
A durable power of attorney authorizes a parent to handle their adult child’s financial affairs, such as paying bills, applying for government benefits, and opening and closing accounts, while a medical power of attorney grants parents the right to see their kids’ medical records and to make informed medical decisions on the student’s behalf. However, a medical power of attorney only allows parents to view records and make medical decisions when their child is incapacitated; a HIPAA release form authorizes medical providers to share information with parents regardless of the child’s condition. Even if a legal adult is eligible for coverage under his or her parents’ insurance policy, it’s still necessary for the parents to have a HIPAA release form on hand.
These forms allow students to choose who will be responsible for making decisions about their financial affairs and medical care if they become incapacitated. Without them, parents may be unable to step in when their children need them most. Additionally, some students would rather entrust one parent with this responsibility over the other.
“In the event that a child designates one parent as his agent, that parent has priority over the other parent in the event of an emergency. This can be especially useful in the case of an individual who is estranged from one of his parents and wouldn’t want that parent making decisions on his behalf,” says Combs. Though minors lack the legal capacity to sign these documents, Combs advises parents to educate their kids on the very real dangers of being unprepared.
“Families can prepare these forms in advance. There’s no harm in filing them away when a student heads off to college,” says Combs, “but they should not be signed until the student becomes a legal adult.”
About Rania Combs, Attorney
Rania Combs is a Texas attorney who understands the unique needs of on-the-go families. Combs runs a web-based practice that allows her busy clients to access their files at any time, from any location.