Attorney David L. Zerbe
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In Indiana Law

Why your college student needs some 'estate planning' documents

Your daughter has started college. She spends her first winter break at her roommate's family's home in Vermont and suffers a concussion on the ski slopes. As you try to talk to the doctor treating her, you learn that since she's 18, you have no right to any medical information about her without her consent, which she can't give since she's heavily sedated.

It doesn't matter that she's on your insurance policy or that you paid for that ski vacation. As one attorney says, "Once a child turns 18, the child is legally a stranger to you."

That's because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and specifically, the Privacy Rule in that law. Once a child becomes a legal adult (which is 18 in most states, including Indiana), their privacy is protected -- even from their parents.

Sometimes doctors decide that it's in their patient's best interests to disclose protected information to a family member without authorization. However, most don't want to risk being cited for a HIPAA violation -- particularly if they don't know the family.

You can prevent a scenario like the one above by having your child put a couple of documents traditionally associated with estate planning in place when they turn 18:

HIPAA authorization: This allows medical providers to give health care information to the designated person(s). If someone is concerned that this will give their parents access to information they don't want them to have, they can stipulate that information regarding sex, drug use or other areas can't be disclosed.

Health care power of attorney (POA): This gives others the authority to make medical decisions for a person if they're unable to speak for themselves. If your child is involved in a serious accident and in a coma, the health care POA will allow you (or whomever they designate) to provide directions to their medical team.

If your child goes to college in another state, it's wise to have the appropriate forms for that state as well as for Indiana. It's a good idea for your child and you to keep the signed documents on your phones or at least where they're easily accessible.

Your estate planning attorney can help you and your child put these documents in place. Like many legal documents, you hope you'll never need them. However, knowing that you have them can give you peace of mind.

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Attorney David L. Zerbe

The Zerbe Firm
15 West Center Street
Lawrenceburg, IN 47025

Phone: 812-270-9999
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