Estate Planning

Planning for Special Circumstances

Powers of Attorney Protect College Students During a Pandemic

by Rania Combs

My daughter graduated from high school a few weeks ago in an unusual ceremony. Our family drove up to the school building, exited our car, entered the building, and walked down a long hallway to an area decorated like a graduation stage. There, the principal called her name and she retrieved her diploma. Then we all walked down another hall to exit the building and drive away.

It was memorable, but definitely not in the way we had imagined it would be.

Preparing for College

She starts college full-time this fall. Her university has announced plans to welcome students on campus in August, and she already has move-in date scheduled.

I’m excited about all the opportunities that lie ahead for her; however,  saying I’m a bit anxious to send her to college during this unprecedented time would be an understatement. After all, as parent, it’s been my job to keep her safe for 18 years. But now, my baby is heading to college during a raging pandemic!

Her powers of attorney were ready for her to sign when she turned 18 in the spring. But the pandemic-related closings occurred, and she never executed the documents. But time is running out.

The Importance of Powers of Attorney

Powers of attorney are important for all college students; however, the seem even more important this year. Without these documents, parents may not be able to access information about their child’s medical condition in the case of serious injury or illness. They also may not be able manage their children’s financial affairs in case of incapacity.


An 18-year old is legally an adult and entitled to the same privacy protections you are. That means without legal authority, parents may not be able to step in to help when children need them most.

Three Documents Every College Student Needs

That’s why every college student should sign the following legal documents before heading off to school, especially this year:

  1.  Durable Power of Attorney: A Durable Power of Attorney authorizes an agent or agents to manage the student’s financial affairs. The power of attorney can either go into effect immediately or spring into effect during the student’s incapacity. This would authorize parents to handle tasks such as paying bills, applying for social security or government benefits, and opening and closing accounts if necessary.
  2. Medical Power of Attorney: A Medical Power of Attorney authorizes agents make medical decisions if the student lacks capacity. If the student lacks capacity, a Medical Power of Attorney also authorizes an agent to access medical records and talk to physicians so they can make informed medical decisions on the student’s behalf.
  3. HIPAA Release: HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) requires health care providers and insurance companies to protect the privacy of patient’s health care information. Those who violate HIPAA are subject to civil and criminal penalties, including jail time. This makes them reluctant to share protected health information without an authorization. While it’s true an agent under a Medical Power of Attorney has the authority to view the principal’s medical records, the Medical Power of Attorney does not grant authority to the agent until the principal lacks capacity. If there is a question about capacity, then HIPAA regulations would prevent access to protected health information. This means that even parents may be prevented from accessing their children’s medical information without an authorization.

These three documents are easy to prepare and are relatively inexpensive. If your child is heading to college, it’s important that you discuss the importance of these documents with him or her.

About Rania

Rania graduated magna cum laude from South Texas College of Law Houston and is the founder of Rania Combs Law, PLLC. She has been licensed to practice law since 1994 and enjoys helping clients in Texas and North Carolina create estate plans that give them peace of mind.

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