Critical Documents Parents Need to Protect College-Age Children by Jeffrey M. Mutnik, CPA/PFS

Posted on December 18, 2023 by Jeffrey Mutnik

Proper estate planning generally requires family elders to execute documents allowing trusted loved ones to make medical or financial decisions on their behalf when they are unable to do so themselves. Children need similar protections when they age out of being a minor and must take on adult responsibilities that likely were not previously addressed. Under most state laws, children are considered adults who assume all legal control over their individual decisions and actions when they turn 18 years old. At that point, it is critical parents consider how their rights change and plan accordingly before their children head off to college.

Without proper planning, parents may not have the legal authority to speak with their college-age children’s doctors or make decisions concerning medical care or finances should their children become unable to do so on their own. To ensure you are not left in the dark and your children receive the assistance they require, it is imperative that you speak with your advisors to prepare the following documents.

HIPAA Authorization and Healthcare Power of Attorney

Should your child get into an accident or become ill, you generally do not have a legal right to receive information about their condition, even if they are hospitalized and unable to communicate with you. The only way to gain access and ensure physicians and medical staff speak directly with you about your child’s condition is to have in place a signed form authorizing the release of health information under HIPAA law. It is also a good idea to check with your child’s college to determine its unique requirements for releasing students’ medical records, which may require you to sign a separate HIPAA authorization form.

Regarding your child’s medical care, it is critical to execute a healthcare power of attorney or healthcare proxy, giving you the authority to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf should they later become mentally or physically unable to make those decisions on their own. Both you and your child should keep copies of the power of attorney and HIPPA release form and consider sending additional copies to the college’s health department and your child’s doctors near campus.

Financial Power of Attorney

College often represents a young adult’s first time managing their finances and living within a budget. While mistakes can be expected, you do not want your child to get to the point where missed payments become a habit that negatively impacts their credit rating. Instead, you may consider executing a financial power of attorney that gives you access to your child’s financial information and allows you to step in, as needed, to remedy issues before they become more significant financial problems. This document is also crucial if your child becomes ill, physically unable to make financial decisions, or if they are traveling out of the country.

Heading to college is an exciting time for children and parents. While you cannot avoid every bump in the road ahead, you can make the path to adulthood smoother when you plan ahead and prepare for possible what-if scenarios.

About the Author: Jeffrey M. Mutnik, CPA/PFS, is a director of Taxation and Financial Services with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors + CPAs, where he provides tax- and estate-planning counsel to high-net-worth families, closely held businesses and professional services firms. He can be reached at the CPA firm’s Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., office at (954) 712-7000 or via email at