Q: My daughter is heading off to college in a few short weeks. Are there any legal documents she should to have in place before she leaves?
A: Absolutely. You’ve asked an excellent question, and one which more parents should ask. Now that your daughter is 18, she is legally competent to sign documents on her own behalf. There are three documents I would recommend your daughter sign before she leaves home.
1. Medical Advance Directive: Accidents do happen. You don’t want to have to go to court to receive authority to act on behalf of your daughter. Instead, your daughter should sign a medical advance directive to authorize a parent (or other trusted adult) to make health care decisions for her, in case she cannot. In New Hampshire, this document is called a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. (See New Hampshire RSA Section 137-J:20.) The document only takes effect if your daughter lacks capacity to make her own health care decisions. The document must either be signed by two witnesses, or before a notary public or a justice of the peace. Your daughter should give her doctor, her college health center, and you a copy of the document. She may also choose to sign a separate “Living Will” which expresses her wishes if she is near death and not expected to recover. In New Hampshire, this is a separate document and she is not obligated to sign a Living Will at the same time she signs the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
2. HIPAA Release: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires health care providers to protect personally identifiable health information from disclosure. Now that your daughter is 18, health care professionals (including college infirmaries and hospitals) are not required to release or disclose protected health information to you unless your daughter authorizes the disclosure, even though she may still be covered by your health insurance. A simple HIPAA release authorizing the disclosure of protected health information is a wise precaution.
3. Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs: This document allows your daughter to designate a trusted individual (called an attorney-in-fact or an agent) to make financial and other non-health care decisions for her. Maybe she is traveling abroad and an emergency arises, or maybe she will want to you sign a lease or other legal document. Because this document grants broad authority to the holder of the power, your daughter should only appoint a parent or other trusted adult to serve as her agent.
Asking your daughter to sign these documents protects her and enables you to help her out, if she needs it. The Scout motto of “Be Prepared” is the watchword of the day.