Be prepared if your college student gets sick or injured away from home

If you have a college freshman heading off to campus, you know it is an exciting time, full of promise. When you think of this time in your child’s life, the phrase “estate planning” doesn’t exactly come to mind. However, an advance directive could help your child should he or she experience a health crisis or emergency. Without it, parents, trusted family or friends may not have the access or authority to help should the unthinkable happen.

Accidents can happen

No parent likes to think about a child having a medical emergency, no matter his or her age. However, the risk is real: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists unintentional injury as the leading cause of death for young adults, ages 15 to 24. And a quarter-million Americans between 18 and 25 are hospitalized with nonlethal injuries each year. Once your child is a legal adult, it can become trickier to help him or her in a medical emergency –– even if your child is on your health plan.

The legal age of majority (the age a person is considered a legal adult) in most U.S. states is 18; in some U.S. states and territories the range is up to 21. This means after your child turns 18, you may have no more right to know his or her health information than a stranger does, due to the federal law restricting release of medical information. But what if it’s an emergency? You could be paying your child’s tuition and still claiming him or her as a dependent on your tax return, but if your child of legal age becomes disabled, even temporarily, you may need approval from a court to act on his or her behalf. (Some states have surrogate decision-making laws that give specific family members the right to make certain medical decisions for others — parents should check the laws of the state where their child attends college.)

Medical providers can disclose protected health information to a family member, even without the patient’s authorization, if — according to their professional judgment — it is in the best interest of the patient. However, providers often err on side of patient privacy. What can your child do to ensure that a trusted love one can help him or her during a health emergency?

Power of attorney for college students and other advance directives

Advance directives are more commonly associated with older people and end-of-life care. However, these documents can be useful for people of all ages. An advance directive is a legal document that allows you to plan and make your health care wishes known in the event that you cannot communicate.

Advance directives can include a living will and a health care power of attorney. The living will describe your wishes regarding medical care. The document also allows you to appoint a medical power of attorney to make health care decisions in the event you become unable to communicate or lose decision-making abilities. The power of attorney for college students creates a surrogate decision-maker for the patient. Medical power of attorney is also known as a “health care proxy,” “appointment of health care agent” or “durable power of attorney for health care.” Medical power of attorney goes into effect when a physician declares that you are unable to make your own medical decisions.

The decision to create an advance directive is a personal one which should be made only after careful thought. If your child considers creating a living will directive or a durable power of attorney, he or she may want to discuss concerns with family, a close friend, clergy or a primary care provider. The “Kentucky Living Will Packet” from the Kentucky attorney general’s office provides guidance on how to set up an advance directive. If you have any questions about the legal validity of an advance directive, you should consult an attorney.

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Additional information on advance directives

If you have additional questions about advance directives, ask to speak with a Norton Children’s chaplain or a patient representative.

If you do not have an attorney and want to obtain legal advice regarding advance directives, call Kentucky Lawyer Referral Service at (502) 583-1801 or the Legal Aid Society at (502) 584-1254.

This is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Norton Healthcare takes no position on advance directives or whether or not an individual should create a living will directive or a durable power of attorney.

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