Does a College Student Need an Estate Plan?

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When parents drop their children off at college they often celebrate the start of a new chapter in their lives and breathe a sigh of relief because, after helping guide their child through high school, paying their tuition, and outfitting their dorm room or apartment, they figure that they have done all that they can do.

But maybe not. You see, if your child is 18 or older, he or she is now an adult in the eyes of the law. (In most states, children become legal adults at age 18). This means that you no longer have the same rights in regard to your child as you did when he or she was a legal minor. For example, you no longer have a right to basic information about his or her health and medical needs, and you’re now excluded from making important medical decisions on your child’s behalf should he or she get injured or become ill while at college. No matter how immature or uniformed your child may be, your adult child is entitled to make those decisions, not you.

In addition, once your child becomes a legal adult, you cannot have access to his or her personal bank account unless you are a co-signer on the account. And perhaps even more importantly, if your child has obtained his or her own credit card, you can’t monitor how much your child is charging or what he or she is using the card for.

The good news is that there are steps your child can take that will allow you to stay involved in his or her medical and financial life once away at college. For example, your child can prepare the following simple medical-related estate planning documents.

1. Medical Power of Attorney & Living Will

Your child can appoint you as his or her health care decision maker by filling out a document called a Medical Power of Attorney. That way, should your child become debilitated due to an accident or illness and can’t make his or her own health care decisions, you can make them.

When your child prepares a Living Will, he or she spells out the terms under which he or she would want life-support measures stopped should he or she be near death with no hope of recovery. Knowing your child’s wishes is likely to make it a little easier for you to cope with a parent’s worst nightmare.

If your child is attending college out-of-state, these documents should be drawn up by an attorney in the state where the college is located. Also, many states combine a Medical Power of Attorney and a Living Will into a single document called an “Advanced Health Care Directive.”

Note: It’s essential that every adult have a Medical Power of Attorney and a Living Will or an Advanced Care Directive. If you don’t, meet with an estate planning attorney for assistance drawing them up. (Full Disclosure: I am one.) 

2. HIPAA Release

HIPAA is the acronym for the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This law helps maintain the privacy of an individual’s medical information and so it is virtually impossible for you to obtain any information about your college student’s medical diagnosis or prognosis unless your name is on his or her HIPAA Release form. Your child may want to add your spouse or partner to the form, too. You can obtain a HIPPA release form for your child to complete from his or her doctor or from your estate planning attorney.

3. Durable Power of Attorney

If you want to remain involved in your child’s financial life once he or she leaves for college, ask your child to prepare a Durable Power of Attorney and to designate you (and/or your spouse or partner) as his or her current financial agent. As your child’s agent you may be able to write checks on his or her account should the need arise or if he or she becomes incapacitated. It will also be easier for you monitor your child’s credit card and debit card purchases. However, you will need your child’s log-in information to do this, but since the money to pay your child’s expenses while he or she is in college is probably coming from you, your child may feel that it’s wise to cooperate and share this information with you.

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