Navigating Emergencies with College Bound Kids

Author – Kelley Bannon Lashley

As my own daughter is heading off to college this Fall, I’ve encountered many checklists aimed at preparing her for this journey into adulthood. However, I haven’t seen one that prepares parents for an emergency health crisis with their child. As an estate planner, it’s not unusual for me to think about and even discuss such topics with my clients. But, as a parent, I’m venturing into new territory where, frankly, I’d rather not go.

As much as we’d all like to avoid it, here are the questions parents should be asking about their adult (yes, age 18 is legally an adult!) children:

  • Do you know how to contact your child’s friends and roommates?
  • Do they know how to contact you?
  • Do you have access to your child’s phone?
  • Are you familiar with the privacy laws that prevent you from accessing basic information about your child?
  • Will the people around your child have access to, and know how to use, necessary medical equipment and administer medications?
  • Are you aware of your child’s feelings about quality of life, organ donation and last wishes?

Even if it feels uncomfortable, please consider having these tough conversations with your children as they approach 18. Do it while your head is clear, so that you can act confidently and with clarity in an emergency.

I recently read a story about a couple whose young adult son died suddenly while away at college. I would like to share with you some of the practical advice that only parents who have experienced such a tragedy could offer.

Sharing Emergency Contact Information

“During the first few hours after we arrived at the hospital, we wanted to begin piecing together the events that led to Kevin’s condition by speaking with his roommate and friends. However, we quickly realized that we did not have Kevin’s roommate’s contact information (and later discussed nor did he have ours).”

With privacy laws and regulations in place, colleges are unable to provide the contact information of other students. Many colleges recommend during freshman orientation that roommates share their contact information with each other’s parents. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will be willing or remember to do this. And, as in Kevin’s case, this was not something most students think to do during their later college years. Additional suggestions:

  • Develop a family password program to track family member user id’s and passwords.There are plenty of phone apps that can help. Lastpass and 1Password are two reputable options.
  • Display emergency contact information on a paper or whiteboard in a dorm or apartment.

Sharing Phone Access Within the Family

“We initially thought having Kevin’s phone and trying to guess at his password would ultimately work. However, as we began the process, we saw the display message “1 attempt has failed, 9 attempts remain” and “after 10 attempts, all information will be cleared.”

There could be important, not to mention very personal information, you want to access on your child’s phone, including photos, email and social media accounts. Without a password to access the phone, there is not much that can be done legally. Even if your adult child is part of your calling plan and you are the account owner, the providers will not give you access. They can only re-set the phone, which means wiping it clean. The phone manufacturers abide by the same set of rules.

The only possible legal way to access the information on your child’s phone is through a Durable Power of Attorney document that contains the requisite language.

Recommended Legal Documents

The day your child turns 18 is the day your authority to make decisions on their behalf stops. As much as you love and want to care for them – and know they would want your help – you are not legally able to care for them without written permission. And, if you haven’t been to parent orientation yet, this is something the colleges will tell you repeatedly. While you may be paying the bill, you are not permitted to see your child’s grades, collegiate financial status or personal information, such as medical history.

To be prepared in an emergency, we recommend that every adult child create their own estate plan, including these four documents:

  1. Will – to make sure the child’s assets pass in accordance with the child’s wishes
  2. Durable Power of Attorney – to allow the parents to sign for the child if the child becomes incapacitated and unable to sign on their own
  3. Advance Healthcare Directive – to allow parents to make medical decisions for the child and deal with decisions regarding quality of life, organ donation and last wishes
  4. HIPAA Privacy Waiver – to allow parents access to the child’s medical information

We want to make it as easy as possible for you to get this done before your children head off to college. So, we have made the California Uniform Statutory Form Durable Power of Attorney, Advance Healthcare Directive, and HIPPA Privacy Waiver available for download from our resources pageClick here to access the forms. There are also instructions for how to make a valid handwritten Will under California law. Of course, we are here to help with a more formal Will or to answer any questions.

Don’t put this off thinking you’ll do it later. It’s like any insurance policy; you don’t think you need it until you really need it. Getting it done will give you peace of mind, which is otherwise hard to come by when your children leave the nest.  

By Kelley Bannon Lashley

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