With school in full swing and parents of college-age children becoming empty-nesters again, one important estate planning question comes to mind: can you as a parent get medical information about your college-age child in the event of an emergency? This concern is especially relevant this year as concerns about swine flu (H1N1 virus) are widespread.

Once a child turns 18, parents generally no longer have legal authority over their child’s financial or medical decisions, even though high-school and college-age children usually are still dependent on their parents.

Moreover, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) imposes high standards of patient privacy on hospitals, physicians and other health care providers. Because of this, many medical providers will not provide any medical information to anyone without the authority of the patient.

One solution is for parents to ask their college-age children to sign a power of attorney and health care directive. These routinely prepared estate planning documents authorize the parents to obtain medical information and make medical and financial decisions for a child if the child is unable to make such decisions for himself or herself. By keeping copies (or, better yet, electronic copies) of these documents readily available, parents will be better prepared to respond in case of an emergency involving the child.