Did you say … estate planning for my college-age child?

By Neeli G. Shah, JD, LLM

As Jamie was getting ready to wrap up her day, she got a phone call from her 18-year-old son’s college roommate who delivered terrifying news. Her son, Sam, almost 2,500 miles away at Stanford University, was being rushed by an ambulance to an emergency room.

In a panic, she called the ER for details about her son. When the nurse asked how old her son was and Jamie said 18, she was told that the nurse could not discuss the case with her.

While a medical provider can choose to disclose information, most medical providers come down on the side of patient privacy because of the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. We live in a litigious society and medical providers are unlikely to disclose medical information without the patient’s consent, particularly if they have never met the family member.

Once a child turns 18, a parent does not have an automatic legal right to obtain medical information about their legal-age son or daughter. And that’s true even if the son or daughter is covered under the parents’ health insurance and even if the parents are paying the bill.

Sam did not intend to keep his parents in the dark during his medical emergency. However, he was in too much pain and didn’t think about the need to give authorization prior to hospitalization.

You can avoid a similar situation with three simple legal documents. Every college-bound child should have the following three forms executed prior to leaving the nest:

These three documents can help facilitate the involvement of a parent or other trusted adult for healthcare and financial matters in a medical emergency.

Parents and their college-age children attend meetings and orientations, but people rarely talk about the real-world implications of this milestone birthday.

You don’t need a lawyer to do this. There are many websites with downloadable forms as well as the Georgia Statutory Forms that are readily available with a simple google search. However, a lawyer’s involvement can help ensure you’re using the right form, explain the statue, and advocate on your behalf in case something goes wrong.

Once the forms are completed, it’s a good idea to scan and save them so they are readily available on your phone and/or your computer.

We think of estate planning as limited to wealthy individuals, but this is a great example of the breadth of what is included and how it can apply to college-aged children.

Neeli Shah is a Legacy Advisor for Atlanta RMHC and can be reached at  As a mother of two little boys, Neeli is mindful of the fact that your family is your most valuable asset. With 10 years of experience in the Trusts and Estates industry, she has represented many individuals, families, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.