As university and college students pack their boxes and cars to head off to a new and exciting year, they are likely thinking about their class schedule, frosh week, and what their plans are for Thanksgiving break. One thing they (and, perhaps, their parents) are most likely NOT thinking about is estate planning.
Most university and college students are at the age where they are considered adults and the rights of a parent to make decisions for an adult child can be limited. For instance, parents may no longer have the legal right to access a child’s education, financial, and health records.
To address this matter, we recommend discussing this independence under the law with your college-aged child.
In addition, it might be best for your student to implement Powers of Attorney (POAs).
A power of attorney is a legal document whereby you appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf while you are still alive. There are two kinds:
- the POA for personal care allows you to appoint someone to make decisions regarding matters such as hygiene, shelter, food and medical care when you are deemed unable to do so; and
- the POA for property which grants someone the power to take care of your financial/legal matters (except making a will) either while you are capable or while you are not (you get to decide).
Why would this be important? Suppose your child had an accident or illness while away at school. Without authorization provided by a POA for personal care, you may not be able to easily access information about their health situation. If they are in an accident and have separate bank accounts and bills to be paid, you would not be able to access their accounts and take care of their financial needs without a POA for property. If your child has insurance needs, traffic court issues, or anything else that needs to be taken care of at home while they are away, you may need a power of attorney in order to assist them in taking care of these things. The powers of attorney can also clarify which parent is to make decisions or if the decision making is to be shared.
There is no need for your child to fear that by signing these documents they are giving up their independence. Having properly drafted documents is a very mature and “adult” thing to do, and the documents can easily be updated as they marry or have other changes in their life.
So as you are packing your child off to school (or simply celebrating their 18th birthday), don’t forget to add powers of attorney to that long list of things to get done!