As some colleges and universities open up for in-person instruction, it is worth taking some time to discuss estate planning for your college-age children. The first question you may ask is why someone with no assets, no income, and no children of their own needs an estate plan? The answer to that is pretty straightforward. Once a child attains the age of eighteen, despite what their parents might think or how the kid might act, they are adults in the eyes of the law. What this means practically is that parents no longer have access to the financial and medical records of their children—even if the parents are still paying the bills and the kids are still on their parents’ insurance. A simple estate plan can help the parents of college-age children continue to take care of their kids the way they always have.
At a minimum, there are three documents needed when your kid ships off to college.
General Durable Financial Power of Attorney
The General Durable Financial Power of Attorney is a document that allows for a person to nominate an agent to manage their financial and legal affairs if they are unable to manage those affairs themselves due to illness, injury, or that study abroad program you’ve been hearing so much about. In the document, your child names you as their agent. Once named as your child’s agent under their power of attorney, you are able to continue to take care of your child as you did for the first eighteen years of their life. A properly drafted power of attorney will enable you to make financial and legal decisions on behalf of your child—everything from paying the bills to signing a lease on their behalf.
Health Care Power of Attorney
The Health Care Power of Attorney allows an individual to nominate an agent or agents to make medical decisions for them in the event they are unable to make those decisions themselves. This document does not allow you to override your child’s medical wishes but, should your college-age student be in a position where they require medical care and are unable to communicate their needs, you would be able to make those decisions on their behalf. A properly drafted Health Care Power of Attorney has the added benefit of clearly designating who will make decisions rather than relying on default designations under the Virginia Code which may, depending on family dynamics, lead to conflict during a time of crisis.
HIPAA is short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA was designed to protect health and medical information from inadvertent disclosure. The result of this is that only people you specifically designate and waive HIPAA protections for can access your medical information. Once your child reaches age eighteen, these protections apply to them as well. This means you will no longer be able to access your child’s medical records without their explicit consent. Were your child to be admitted to the hospital and unable to communicate, you might find yourself in the position of being unable to learn about their condition or even if they were in the hospital if they did not already create a HIPAA waiver. A HIPAA Release in conjunction with a Health Care Power of Attorney are two critical documents that will help you help your child in the case of a medical emergency.
Although estate planning is not the first thing that comes to mind when discussing young adults, it is just as important for them as it is for older folks. There are other estate planning documents that may be of benefit to your child as well, such as a Will or a FERPA Release. If you would like to discuss preparing documents for your college-bound child, simply call our office to schedule a complimentary consultation with your JGB attorney.