Your family may be sending a child off to college any day now. And if so, there are legal documents you might want to have in place -- which, during a pandemic, are more important than ever. If your child gets sick -- and you don't have these documents -- their doctor can't tell you much.
As college students flock back to campuses, health experts expect COVID-19 cases there to rise. And here's something you may not know: if your student gets sick, you may largely be left in the dark.
"A parent can't go to the doctor, go to the hospital and say 'I want to see the file, I want to know what's wrong with my child," estate attorney Steve Trytten told the NBCLA I-Team.
As the I-Team has reported before, a federal law - known as HIPAA - places strict privacy standards on medical information so that once a child is no longer a minor doctors can share very little medical information with parents.
Trytten suggests college students sign a "HIPAA directive." The document gives doctors the authority to share the student’s medical information with their parents, something especially important right now.
"Life is just really uncertain now. And anything we can do to put a little certainty back in the equation can only help," he said.
Trytten also suggests young adults sign an "advance healthcare directive." This would allow parents to make medical decisions on their child's behalf, if the child can't do it on their own.
"If that young adult can't communicate for whatever reason, somebody needs to be interacting with doctors on treatments, options and making decisions."
Without a directive, a court would have to appoint a conservator for the young adult. Trytten says that's a long, difficult and expensive process. And finally, Trytten suggests a "durable power of attorney."
"This names someone to handle any legal or financial matter they might need," Trytten said.
For example, like paying bills or filing a tax return.
Trytten says getting these documents in place can offer many families a peace of mind, while also teaching the young adult a valuable lesson.
"I also think actions speak louder than words. You’re setting a great example for your young adult about how to keep your legal house in order. So there are a lot of good reasons and not a single bad one."
An attorney can prepare these documents, you can buy them from online legal services, or the Attorney General's Office offers a health care directive for free.