Estate Planning: College Prep – the Unexpected Kind

Jim Gianelli
By Jim Gianelli March 15, 2014 11:27

You get a call in the night. Your college-student daughter has been seriously hurt and is unconscious. You jump in your car and set out for the hospital, fully expecting to talk to the doctors, sign off on medical care and make key decisions during your child’s recovery.

You are, after all, the parent, and this is your daughter. Of course you will have a voice in the key medical decisions. Right?


Under California law, your daughter is an adult at the age of 18 – regardless of whether she is living at home or is financially dependent on you. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) protects the privacy of all adults’ medical records and may prohibit parents from receiving medical information or making decisions for the child – even if that child is unconscious and unable to communicate.

Physicians can and often will identify a parent as a health care advocate who has authority to make decisions on behalf of an adult child. But identifying a parent may not be easy in blended families where divorced parents and stepparents may not agree on a medical course of action. And this may happen when time is of the essence and every second counts.

Here are a few documents that can help parents avoid these situations and other related problems:

Advanced health care directive – Before your child enrolls in college, he or she should sign an advanced health care directive. This document designates a health care agent who is in charge in the event an adult student is unable to make his or her own health care decisions in a medical emergency.

It is wise to name an alternate agent in the event the first choice can’t be present. This form also allows the student to make certain end-of-life decisions and to provide for organ donation (important in case of young donor-recipient matches).

HIPPA release form – Available at most colleges and at campus health clinics or hospitals, this form gives parents immediate access to their students’ medical records.

Durable power of attorney – Before he or she enrolls at college, have your son or daughter sign a durable power of attorney form that permits you to make decisions for him or her regarding all accounts, vehicles, real estate and other financial affairs in the event he or she is incapacitated.

Bank accounts – Those held by your college-age children should list you, the parent, as a cosigner or payable-on-death beneficiary.

Will – Nothing is as tragic as the death of a child, but it might in some cases be prudent to plan for the very worst. A last will and testament ensures an orderly distribution of assets and transition in the event of a child’s premature death.

Am I serious here? Many older people have not even taken the time to make their own wills, so why might this be important for a college-age child?

Admittedly, in most cases it is not critical, but there are instances where it may be – especially if the child is a single parent (for purposes of selecting a guardian) and in complex/blended family situations where it is important to determine who is in charge of affairs at death.

Although the likelihood of a major medical emergency – and certainly of death – is very low, it is better to be prepared for any eventuality.

Compare this to buying life or homeowner’s insurance: The consequences of not doing so are just too high.

Jim Gianelli is a partner in the Sonora law firm of Gianelli & Polley,

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Jim Gianelli
By Jim Gianelli March 15, 2014 11:27
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