It’s Back to School Time – Is your Student Ready?

As a new school year is beginning, you may be, like many families, embarking on a new chapter and preparing to send a child to college.  With all of the excitement and emotion surrounding this transition, it’s easy to overlook that your college student is also entering legal adulthood.  While we know that your child will still be emotionally and financially dependent on you (at least a while longer), in most states the age of majority is 18.  This can be problematic.  You may still need to be involved in your child’s day-to-day life, but may not have considered that adulthood cuts off your legal ability to make financial and healthcare decisions on your child’s behalf, without the child’s permission.  In other words, you may not be able to obtain details of your child’s medical condition when they are in the hospital, be able to inquire about unpaid bills or overdrawn accounts, or inquire about enrollment status at school.  Even if your child does not plan on attending college, it is essential to consider basic estate planning for the young adult – primarily a Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will Declaration, and a Financial Power of Attorney – to ensure they are covered in any situation.

Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will Declaration

If your child has a medical emergency, the doctors and hospital will be very limited in the information they can provide to you, unless the appropriate authorizations are in place.  This can be the case even when your child is still covered under your health insurance.

As with your own estate plan, health care powers of attorney recognize your child’s right to designate someone to make health care decisions on their behalf in the event they are incapacitated and cannot make them on their own.  The document also includes their wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment, organ donation, and disposition of remains, if desired. It may also be prudent to prepare a separate Living Will Declaration to confirm end-of-life treatment. Most powers of attorney will include HIPAA authorizations, which allow health care providers to share protected health information with the designated persons, but it can also be prepared as a separate form, if so required by the school.  Your child may set limits on the type of information you may receive – if this is a concern to him or her – but having a full authorization is recommended in case of unanticipated situations.

Not only should your child have forms prepared for their state of permanent residence, but forms that conform to the laws of the state in which they will be attending school.  It is also advisable to check-in with the student health care center on campus, which may have its own set of forms, or have a system for keeping your child’s forms on file.  Health care professionals are generally more comfortable relying on a form they recognize, which can save valuable time when dealing with often urgent medical issues.

Financial Power of Attorney

As with the health care power of attorney, your child may designate someone to make financial decisions on his or her behalf in the event of incapacity, when studying abroad, or even if he or she would simply like your assistance with certain financial matters.  The powers can be as broad, or as limited, as your child decides - e.g., you could have the ability to access their bank accounts, pay bills, assist with financial aid, or sign tax returns - and it can be effective now or upon some trigger event in the future, such as incapacity. 

To access education records, the school will likely require a separate release to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  Although there are some exceptions when a school can release limited information to a parent, once a student is age 18 or attending a postsecondary institution, the student must provide written consent for the parent to access grades, transcripts or disciplinary records.

Once completed, you and your child should retain electronic copies of all of the documents, so that they can be accessed readily should the situation arise.

Please contact us if you have further questions, or if DUGGAN BERTSCH can assist you with the preparation of the appropriate documents for your child.