Question: My son just turned 18 and is heading off to college in about two weeks. The college is located upstate. Are there any legal documents he should execute before he leaves?
Answer: Yes, your child should execute a Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney. These two estate planning documents are essential for young adults. Without these documents, parents do not have the authority to make health care decisions or manage money for their children once they turn 18. Even though parents are paying the tuition, cover their children on their health insurance plans and claim them as dependents on their tax returns. That means if a young adult is in an accident and becomes disabled, even temporarily; a parent might need court intervention and approval through a guardianship proceeding to act on his or her behalf.
As much as you hope you have prepared your children to take care of themselves, you may still be your child’s fallback for emergencies. Having a Health Care Proxy authorizes an agent of your child’s choice to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable to make them for themselves. It also gives that agent access to their medical records.
The Durable Power of Attorney appoints a trusted family member, friend or adviser as an agent to act, if need be, in a variety of financial and legal matters. The power of attorney is effective from the moment your child signs the document but cannot be used by the agent until after the agent signs.
The parent is usually the best person to put in charge of both medical and legal matters. However, if relationships are strained, your child might appoint another trusted adult. This could be an aunt, uncle or older sibling. It’s also important to name an alternate in case your child’s first choice becomes unable or unwilling to serve.
The Durable Power of Attorney can be useful in a variety of situations that can arise when children go overseas, either for a trip or to study abroad. In case of an emergency, having a power of attorney makes it easier to contact the local embassy or wire money from a child’s bank account. It could also come in handy if a parent needs to sign a legal document, such as a lease, in the child’s absence.
If your child is going off to college, it is a good idea to have a lawyer prepare this these documents, meet briefly with you and your child and explain the significance of the documents. Compared with other back-to-school expenses, what you pay for this service could turn out to be a very good investment.