When our kids go to college, it’s both an exhilarating and stressful experience. Sure, you’re proud, excited — and your heart is likely bursting at the seams; but you’re almost certainly a little afraid, too. How can you make sure your kid is going to be safe at school, so far away from home? A new Bed Bath and Beyond matching sheet set for the dorm sounds great, but it’s not going to help if your precious child is in a life-threatening situation, is it? So what else can you do?
Actually, there is something you can do: hire an estate planning attorney. Even though you may not like it, your kids are now legally considered adults. And, as such, you need to prepare and protect them. It’s essential to remember: At 18, college students may still want mom and dad at their side if they gets sick, but legally, decisions for medical care are their decisions alone.
For instance, let’s say your son or daughter was in a serious car accident and rendered unconscious. A parent could not authorize medical care without first going to court. And it would be up to a judge whether to appoint the parent as the guardian. Not to sound dire, but the unfortunate reality is that, according to Forbes, every year, some quarter of a million 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 durable power of attorney, and medical directives that would allow someone trustworthy to make medical decisions for them and to act on their behalf, if they are physically or mentally incapacitated.
Here are the instruments you need to have in place before your kids leave the nest:
- A FERPA Release: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is designed to protect a college student’s 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. It would be wise to have your child sign an authorization so that—just in case—any doctors treating your child can talk to you about your child’s condition, care, and treatment.
- A Durable Power of Attorney: This is a legal document that allows you to take care of your child’s financial affairs, such as checking or savings accounts, payment of bills, etc., if the 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).
- A Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare: Like the financial version, this allows you to handle medical decisions for your child, if your child is unable to do so. In Florida, it is called a Designation of Health Care Surrogate. This authorization applies while you are incapacitated but not at death’s door. A Living Will is the instrument that applies when someone is clearly dying.
- A Will: At first glance, this may seem a little silly for the average (broke) college kid. But certain hidden complexities may arise if, God forbid, your child passes away. The average American has some 90 online accounts, for instance. Does your child have thoughts about who should manage and close down those social media accounts? Monitor emails? Who should get the Xbox, jewelry or a bank account? It’s also a great time in your young adult’s life to instill responsibility by asking him or her to consider these issues.
These issues are uncomfortable and challenging to consider, but a good estate planning attorney will be able to support you through this process. As a mother of three young adults, I know exactly what parents are going through. In fact, my mission at Flagship Law is to help families like yours attain peace of mind.