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For parents of college-bound freshmen, the period between college decision day and college drop-off day provides an opportunity to discuss previously unexplored topics which are both timely and important.

A few issues related to children reaching adulthood can be addressed to help put your mind at ease as you prepare to send your now-adult child off to college.

Adjusting to a New Age

Having always been in the driver’s seat for decisions relating to their child’s health and wellbeing and still feeling very much relied on for various forms of support, many parents do not realize that once a child turns 18, parents are no longer given access to a child’s health, financial and academic records without an adult child’s consent. This is the case even for parents who are funding their child’s post-secondary education, claiming their child as a dependent for tax purposes, and/or insuring them on their health insurance policies.

If you haven’t already done so, experts suggest having a conversation with your adult child about circumstances where parental access to information now considered private can be extremely helpful to both of you, especially in emergency situations.

Below are three forms of authorization to discuss with your child and to consider putting them in place before college begins.

3 Key Documents

  1. HIPPA Authorization: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) puts safeguards in place to protect private health information. While access to medical records can no longer automatically be given to a parent once a child reaches the age of 18, an adult child may designate a person or persons (parents or otherwise) with whom medical personnel can share certain health information about the child. Note that the adult child can give broad authorization for the sharing of all medical information or may exclude certain categories of information from being shared. Promptly producing an executed copy of this document should be sufficient for the authorized individual to obtain information from a health care provider or institution treating your child. Without this authorization in place, a parent is unlikely to be provided with any information about an adult child’s medical condition and this can be particularly concerning in situations where the child is unable to provide updates due to serious injury.
  2. Healthcare Proxy (or Medical Power of Attorney): This document allows an adult child to designate someone (a parent or other individual) to make medical decisions for them if they are unable to make them for themselves. Your child may name one or more backup agents in priority order to empower another individual to make decisions in the event the first named agent is unavailable. Having this document filled out and executed by your child will enable you (or whoever is appointed) to make medical decisions in the event your child is unable to do so.
  3. Durable Power of Attorney: This document enables an adult child to appoint a designated agent (often, a parent) to make financial decisions on the child’s behalf under certain circumstances. Depending on how the Power of Attorney (POA) is drafted, it can provide that power vests in the designated agent immediately after the document is signed or that it vests only in the event the child becomes incapacitated. The POA can enable the designated agent to access the child’s financial accounts, pay bills, file taxes, address tuition or financial aid issues, or handle other specified matters on the child’s behalf. This can be very helpful in a variety of situations where your child may need you to step in.

Forms of Assistance

An attorney with trusts and estates experience would be well-positioned to assist you and if you do not have or know of one, your state bar association could point you in the right direction. There are also online entities and other resources that can be utilized, some of which offer personalized support or legal advice in addition to copies of forms for your family’s use.

Additionally, your local health care provider(s) may be able to assist with providing a form of HIPPA authorization and/or Healthcare Proxy. Keep in mind, however, that state laws vary, and accordingly, the required content of these forms may vary by state as well. You’ll want to get assistance to help your child obtain and complete the correct forms pursuant to the laws of the state where your child is attending school as well as the state of permanent residence. The school’s health services division may be able to provide support or point your family to the correct forms for use at their school and in their state.

Document Retention

Once your adult child has obtained, completed, signed, and had these forms notarized, as required, your child and those appointed as agents should retain physical and digital copies in easy-to-access locations. Some experts recommend placing a digital copy on one’s phone and in a cloud drive as well. Copies of the HIPPA Authorization and Health Care Proxy should be provided not only to the child’s primary care physician at home but to medical facilities or providers on or near campus once it’s clear which ones the student may be utilizing.

While you hope you will never need to use these authorizations, having them on hand will surely provide you with peace of mind as your child enters adulthood and an exciting new chapter of life.


Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.