You may have been running around for weeks, getting your new college student off to school. It’s exhilarating, and your heart likely is bursting at the seams. You’re probably prouder than words can express, but you’re also a little afraid, too. How can you make sure your kid is going to be safe at school, their new home away from home? A new, matching Bed Bath and Beyond sheet set for the dorm or apartment sounds great, but it just doesn’t seem like quite enough, does it? So what else can you do?
Actually, there is something, probably not yet on your to-do list, that absolutely can make all the difference. Bring your child to a local estate planning attorney!
You’ve probably focused on the fact that, having graduated from high school, your child is an adult now—meaning that your child is going to spread her wings. But what is essential to remember: At 18, a college student may still want her mom and dad by her side if she gets sick. However, legally, decisions for medical care are hers alone now. If she were to be unconscious from a serious car accident, a parent may not be able to authorize medical care without first going to court. And it would be up to a judge to determine if her parent would be an appropriate guardian to make medical decisions.
I don’t want to worry you, but the unfortunate reality is that every year, a significant number of people between 18 and 25 wind up in the nation’s hospitals, and their parents are often locked out of critical decisions.
Therefore, experts recommend that everyone over the age of 18 have a basic estate plan that includes a will or trust, a financial power of attorney, and medical directives that would allow someone they trust to act on their behalf if they aren’t able to do so.
Here are some things to take care of before you drop your child off at college:
- A FERPA Release: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is designed to protect college students’ privacy, but it can leave parents locked out in an emergency. A properly worded release allows school officials to talk with you and release your child’s records to you.
- A HIPAA Authorization: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was designed to protect a patient’s privacy. Consider having your child sign an authorization so that—just in case—any necessary doctors can talk to you about your child’s condition, care, and treatment.
- A Durable Financial Power of Attorney: This is a legal document that allows you to take care of your child’s checking or savings accounts, pay bills, etc., if your child is unable to—whether due to illness or even just location (for example, if the school is on the other side of the country).
- Advance Health Care Directive: Like the financial version, this allows you to handle medical decisions for your child if your child is unable to do so.
- A Will: At first glance, this may seem a little silly for the average broke college kid. In our digital age, there are some hidden complexities. For example, on average, an email account today is tied to 130 or more online accounts, each with their own username and password. Does your child have thoughts about who should manage their social media and email accounts, receive valuable gaming accounts, and close down other apps and accounts? It’s also a great time in your young adult child’s life to instill responsibility by encouraging them to think about planning in the long term.
I can help your family attain peace of mind. Please reach out to me if you would like to talk more about these important issues and to protect your new college student and your family.