College is not only a time of significant adjustment for students. It is for their parents as well. Although it may still seem as though your child is still heavily dependent on you for guidance, discipline, and money, in the eyes of the law, your child is now an adult. One of the most important consequences of that change (and one that very few people think about before it becomes an emergency) is that you are no longer entitled to participate in your child’s medical care. This may mean that if your child suffers some sort of medical emergency that requires immediate treatment, not only will you not be able to participate in decisions about your child’s care, but you may not even be able to confirm that your child has been hospitalized. One of the most dramatic examples of the problems this can create came during the Virginia Tech shooting, when frantic parents were unable to get information about whether their children were even in a hospital, let alone what kind of injuries they might have suffered.
Another scary example comes from this recent article in Consumer Reports:
Early one October morning, Sheri E. Warsh, a mother of three from Highland Park, Ill., stepped out of the shower to a ringing phone. On the other end, her 18-year-old son’s college roommate delivered terrifying news: Her son—270 miles away at the University of Michigan—was being rushed by ambulance to a nearby emergency room with severe, unrelenting chest pain. “I was scared out of my mind, imagining the worst,” Warsh said.
In a panic, she called the ER for details about the medical emergency. What she got instead was a rebuff from the nurse. “She asked me how old my son was, and when I said 18, she told me I had no right to talk to the doctor,” Warsh said.
Get a medical release form from your college student
The most tragic part about all of this is that this problem is actually very easy to solve. Your college student can sign a medical record release form, authorizing you to access their records and speak with their doctors. Perhaps even better would be to have your college student sign a medical power of attorney, naming you as their agent. This gives you the power to not only get information, but to make decisions for them if they cannot speak for themselves.
This may seem like an easy thing to do, but it is very important that the release or POA contain the exact required language from the statutes that govern medical record privacy. They also need to comply with the laws of the state in which your child will be attending college.
If you live in Colorado and also have a child between the ages of 18 and 25 who lives in Colorado, please give me a call to discuss getting a release in place for you. If you hire me to complete your estate plan, I will create a medical power of attorney for your adult children for free. This gives you a great opportunity to get both of these critical tasks off your “to do” list.
Please see this video of me discussing this topic back in 2014 here: