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What happens if my adult child does not have a Healthcare Power of Attorney?

The Vital Importance of Appointing a Healthcare Power of Attorney for College Students


As college students embark on their academic journeys, the focus is often on classes, social activities, and future career prospects. Amidst the excitement and challenges of this new phase of life, health considerations may not be at the forefront of their minds. However, appointing a Healthcare Power of Attorney (HCPA) is a crucial step that every college student should consider. This article delves into the reasons why it is important for college students to appoint an HCPA, the role they play, and the potential consequences of not having one – including the necessity for the family to go to court to appoint a guardian.


Understanding Healthcare Power of Attorney


Before exploring the specific considerations for college students, let's establish a clear understanding of what a Healthcare Power of Attorney entails. An HCPA is a legal document that grants someone the authority to make healthcare decisions on an individual's behalf if they become unable to do so. This designated person, known as the healthcare agent, steps in to ensure that the individual's medical wishes are respected and adhered to.


The Unique Health Challenges Faced by College Students


College life brings with it a range of experiences and challenges, and health-related issues are not uncommon. From minor illnesses to more serious medical emergencies, college students may find themselves in situations where quick and informed decisions need to be made, in the event s/he is not able to do so on one’s own. Having an HCPA in place becomes particularly crucial due to the following factors:


1. Away from Home


Many college students live away from their family homes, sometimes in different states or even countries. In the event of a medical emergency, the physical distance can complicate decision-making processes. An appointed healthcare agent can act promptly on behalf of the student, ensuring that medical decisions align with their wishes.


2. Legal Adulthood


Upon reaching the age of 18, individuals are considered legal adults. This change in status brings both autonomy and the responsibility to make one's healthcare decisions. However, it also means that parents no longer have default legal authority to make medical decisions for their college-age children. Appointing an HCPA ensures that a trusted individual retains this authority.


3. Privacy Laws


Health privacy laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), restrict the sharing of medical information. Without an HCPA, parents may face challenges obtaining crucial health details about their college student in the event of a medical emergency.


The Top Reasons for College Students to Appoint a Healthcare Power of Attorney


1. Prompt Decision-Making


College students may face situations where quick medical decisions are necessary. Whether it's an unexpected illness, an accident, or another health-related incident, having a designated healthcare agent ensures that decisions are made promptly without delays.


2. Alignment with Personal Values


As young adults, college students may have specific values, beliefs, and preferences regarding medical treatment. Appointing an HCPA allows them to choose someone who understands and respects these personal choices, ensuring that healthcare decisions align with their individual values.


3. Family Involvement


While parents may no longer have default legal authority once their child turns 18, appointing an HCPA allows for continued family involvement in medical decision-making. The student can select a family member or another trusted individual to act as their healthcare agent.


4. Privacy Protection


Health privacy laws can pose challenges for family members seeking information about a student's health. Appointing an HCPA facilitates the smooth sharing of medical information, ensuring that parents or chosen individuals can be well-informed about the student's health status.


5. Legal Autonomy


College students often embrace newfound independence and autonomy. Appointing an HCPA is a proactive step in exercising this autonomy, allowing them to have control over who makes critical healthcare decisions on their behalf.


Consequences of Not Having a Healthcare Power of Attorney


1. Legal Barriers for Family


If a college student does not appoint an HCPA, their family may encounter legal barriers when attempting to make healthcare decisions on their behalf. The family would need to go to court to have a guardian appointed, a process that can be time-consuming, emotionally draining, and expensive.


2. Delayed Decision-Making


Legal proceedings to appoint a guardian can result in significant delays in decision-making. In medical emergencies, time is often of the essence, and delays can impact the effectiveness of treatments and interventions.


3. Lack of Family Involvement


Without an HCPA, the default legal system may not recognize the family's authority to make healthcare decisions. This lack of involvement can be distressing for both the student and their family during critical health situations.


4. Limited Influence over Medical Choices


Legal proceedings may lead to the appointment of a guardian who may not fully understand the student's values and preferences. This can result in medical choices that do not align with the student's wishes.


5. Emotional Toll on Loved Ones


The legal complexities and emotional strain of going to court for guardianship can be overwhelming for the family. The uncertainty and potential disagreements during this process can take a toll on the emotional well-being of all involved.


How to Appoint a Healthcare Power of Attorney for College Students


1. Identify a Trusted Individual


College students should carefully consider who they trust to make healthcare decisions on their behalf. This individual should be someone who understands their values, respects their wishes, and can act responsibly in critical situations.


2. Initiate Open Conversations


Discussing healthcare preferences and decisions with the chosen individual is crucial. This open conversation ensures that the healthcare agent is aware of the student's values, beliefs, and specific medical preferences.


3. Consult Legal Assistance


To ensure the validity and legality of the HCPA, college students should consult with legal professionals. Attorneys experienced in healthcare law can assist in drafting the necessary legal documents.


4. Share Documentation


Once the HCPA is in place, it's essential to share copies of the document with relevant parties. This includes healthcare providers, family members, and the appointed healthcare agent. Having the document readily available during emergencies is critical.


5. Periodic Review and Updates


As circumstances change, healthcare preferences may evolve. College students should periodically review and update their HCPA to reflect any changes in their chosen healthcare agent or specific medical wishes.




For college students, appointing a Healthcare Power of Attorney is not just a legal formality but a proactive and responsible step toward safeguarding their health and well-being. The unique challenges of college life, combined with the legal transition to adulthood, make this decision even more critical. The consequences of not having an HCPA can extend beyond legal barriers, impacting prompt decision-making, family involvement, and the alignment of medical choices with personal values. By taking the time to appoint a trusted healthcare agent, college students assert control over their healthcare decisions and provide peace of mind for themselves and their families. In doing so, they navigate the complexities of legal adulthood with foresight and responsibility.

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