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College Bound! Two Legal Documents Your Child Needs

Summer is almost gone, and many parents are tearfully sending their children off to college.  For many students, this is the first time that they have spent an extended amount of time away from home and on their own.  The last few weeks have probably been spent visiting friends, back-to-school shopping, and packing.  While back-to-school shopping looks different for college, whether your child will be on campus or in an apartment, one item that is often overlooked is making sure that your child has the necessary legal documents should something happen to him or her while away from home.

Parents often receive a shock when their child returns home for a school break and their regular doctor’s office tells them, “I’m sorry but your child is now 18 years old, and they need to call for this appointment.”  After you pick yourself up off the floor and before you argue with the receptionist, take a step back and think about it.  You successfully raised your children to become young adults.  Congratulations and Job Well-Done!  But that also means that the law now views them as having some adult responsibilities, including making their own medical decisions.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) has also made it increasingly difficult for parents to access their adult child’s medical history and speak to medical professionals even in an emergency unless that child has authorized the parent on a HIPAA-compliant release form.  An emergency situation is exactly that – an emergency with little if any time to worry about a HIPAA-compliant form.

Instead, a healthcare power of attorney can help alleviate a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety for both parent and child.  Your young adult can now sign a legal document that names you, the parent, as his or her primary medical agent to discuss and assist in medical decisions.  But don’t forget to name a trusted alternate in the event that you and your child are in an accident while driving to and from college.

It is always best to be prepared for anything life throws at you and this particular back-to-school time seems to be filled with much more anxiety than in years past.  Part of that anxiety is due to the existence of COVID-19 and the fact that last year a lot of schools offered remote learning.  I have seen more clients coming in recently with their college-bound children to sign a healthcare power of attorney than I have in previous summers.

The second document that your college-bound child should consider is a general durable power of attorney, which covers a variety of non-medical situations.  Specifically, this document allows you the parent, if you are named as the primary agent, to manage bank accounts, pay bills, file income tax returns, and step in to address concerns with the student’s apartment lease, among other things.  All of these tasks can be particularly helpful in the event that your child decides to study abroad, in addition to assisting with visa applications and communicating directly with the United States Embassy.  As with the medical power of attorney, it is always a good idea to name an alternate agent.

Although it may be a bit morbid to discuss these documents with your college-bound child, the peace of mind that they provide is priceless.  Transitioning to adulthood can be a scary time, but with the proper legal planning, that stress can be diminished.