Accidental injury is the leading cause of death for adults between ages 18 to 24 with over a quarter million being hospitalized yearly for non-lethal injuries. Not a statistic that parents – who are busy preparing their young adult heading off to college – want to think about.

However, there is something you can do to help prepare for an unexpected event in your college student’s life. Along with the notebooks and shower slippers, make sure your child is armed with these three critical legal documents.

HIPAA AUTHORIZATION FORM

What is it:  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that protects an adult’s private health information by preventing unauthorized people from accessing it. The HIPAA Authorization Form allows a person to give named recipients the authority to receive his or her healthcare information.

What you should know: In the event your adult child has an accident or serious illness, and you’re seeking information about his or her medical condition, you will not be able to obtain it. Healthcare providers are prohibited by law to disclose an adult’s personal health information to those who are not authorized to receive it. That includes the parents (even if you do pay the insurance bill).

Without a HIPAA Authorization Form in place, medical practitioners are prohibited from revealing any information regarding your child’s health status and treatment – even in the event of incapacitation. The only option to obtain this information is to have a court appoint you as guardian, which can take time.

What you should do: Have your child name you as an authorized party on the HIPAA Authorization Form and sign it. If your child is reluctant to give you permission to see his or her medical history, stipulate in the document any specific information that cannot be disclosed, such as matters concerning sex, drugs or mental health. Make sure everyone has a copy of this form.

POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR HEALTHCARE (ADVANCE DIRECTIVE)

What is it: A legal document that allows you to appoint someone else to act as your agent for healthcare decisions in the event you’re unable to make those decisions yourself due to incapacitation. Medical agents are given specific authority to determine the best healthcare option for those in their care. Take note that this document can go by other names depending on the state.

What you should know: In the event of unconsciousness or incapacitation, you will have no voice in your adult child’s medical care. All healthcare decisions will be made by the healthcare providers unless you get a court-appointed guardianship.

What you should do: In compliance with state law, prepare and sign a healthcare power of attorney form (or similar form) naming a primary agent and a successor agent (for instance, mom as agent, dad as successor agent).  Make sure everyone has a copy of this document.

DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR FINANCE

What is it: A legal document that allows you to appoint someone else to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. This includes paying bills, managing bank accounts, signing tax returns, and conducting other necessary financial and legal matters.

What you should know: In the event of incapacitation, you will have no authority to manage your child’s bank account, pay bills, file a tax return, or break a lease unless you seek a court appointed conservatorship to do so.

What you should do: In compliance with state law, complete and sign a financial power of attorney form naming a primary agent and a successor agent. (for instance, dad as agent, mom as successor agent).  Make sure everyone has a copy of this document.

THE NEXT BIG QUESTION: Which state’s documents should we use if my child is attending an out-of-state school?

Different states may have different requirements for powers of attorney to be valid. Many medical professionals and organizations are also wary about accepting documents with unfamiliar language. To ensure your forms will be readily accepted, it’s best to execute these documents in the state your child is attending school. Either an attorney licensed in that state can assist you, or you can check with the school about forms they recommend for their students.

If most financial affairs are conducted in your child’s home state (holding accounts and filing taxes), then it may be best to keep the durable power of attorney local. However, be aware that many banks may still not accept it – even if it is in state. Liability issues are always a top concern for these firms. It may be better to share a joint account with your child or have a power of attorney on file with the bank so access will not be an issue.

It is possible to execute two sets of powers of attorney – one for each state – depending on the circumstances. If this applies to you, meet with a qualified estate planning attorney who can ensure these documents are prepared correctly.