3 Legal Documents College Students Should Have

If you’re the parent of a recent high school graduate or new college student, congratulations! This is an exciting time for both you and your child. You get to celebrate their achievements, and look forward to their bright future as they move into adulthood.

As you both contemplate what lies ahead, you may have forgotten one thing: although the process of becoming an adult is a gradual one, the process of becoming a legal adult is an instantaneous one. The day your child turns eighteen, they may still be craving your homemade chocolate-chip cookies and calling you for laundry tips, just as they did the day before. But your legal rights regarding your child are very different. Once they turn eighteen, they are a full adult in the eyes of the law.

This is often a shock to parents who have spent their children’s entire lives making doctor appointments for them, managing their finances, and generally being privy to their business. And while your child is a legal adult, the reality is they may still need your help with a lot of adult business. Unfortunately, without the proper legal documents in place, you may experience roadblocks to helping them.

Estate Planning for College Students

It may seem strange to think about estate planning for someone whose whole life is ahead of them. But the reality is that estate planning is not just about distributing your assets when you die; it’s about planning for unforeseen circumstances that can happen at any age. Hopefully, your child won’t actually need any of these documents while they’re enjoying their college years—but you’ll both feel better knowing they have them.

HIPAA Release

To parents accustomed to managing their child’s health care, it can be jarring to suddenly be in the dark regarding what doctors they are seeing and what health conditions they are dealing with. To newly-adult children used to having their parents’ input on health decisions, it may be surprising that their doctors cannot readily talk to their parents.

We recommend having college students sign a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release so that their parents can get necessary information about their health. A HIPAA release or authorization allows an identified third party (like a parent) to get information directly from a health care provider.

Of course, there are situations in which it is important for parents to have this access, and others in which the child might prefer to keep things private (like reproductive care and mental health treatment). College students will be relieved to know that they can choose, on the form itself, to give their parents access to certain medical information while withholding other access.

Each health care provider may have their own HIPAA authorization form, as might the college itself. Your child should sign a HIPAA authorization for each health care provider they have, as well as any HIPAA authorization that their college may have. Make sure they give you a copy, which you should scan and put on your smartphone so that you can transmit it to a medical provider as needed in case it’s not in their files.

Medical Power of Attorney

In addition to signing HIPAA authorizations with their medical providers, your child should execute a medical power of attorney. This document allows you to make medical decisions on their behalf in the event that they are incapacitated and cannot make decisions for their own care. Having a child suffer a sudden illness, injury, or accident is a parent’s nightmare. Being hundreds of miles away and unable to help is even worse.

As with a HIPAA release, you should keep a scanned copy of the medical power of attorney on your phone or computer. You cannot predict what hospital your child may be taken to if they need emergency care. You want to be able to instantly let a facility know that your child has authorized you to make their medical decisions if needed. HIPAA authorizations and medical powers of attorney are two types of advance directives.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

Like a health care power of attorney, a financial power of attorney gives a third party (the agent) ability to make decisions on another person’s (the principal’s) behalf. With a durable financial power of attorney, a parent can transact a child’s financial business and manage their assets if their child becomes unable to. “Durable” means the power survives the adult child becoming legally incapacitated; this power can also be “springing” so that it does not take effect unless and until needed.

While it may be more urgent to be able to receive medical information about your child and make medical decisions for them, it is also important to be able to manage their finances if they are incapacitated. An estate planning attorney can draw up both powers of attorney at the same time.

Consider Reviewing Your Own Estate Plan

While you are in the process of putting these important legal documents in place for your college student, consider taking a look at your own estate plan; it probably needs updating. For instance, a few years ago, you needed to name a guardian for your now-adult child. Now that need may no longer exist.

On the other hand, as a legal adult, your child may be entitled to receive their entire inheritance at once if you were to die tomorrow. If that prospect makes you uneasy, you may want to speak to your estate planning attorney about creating a trust so that your child’s assets can be protected for them until they are ready to manage them responsibly.

We realize that this blog post has required you to think about some worst-case scenarios. The good news is that having a plan in place for those unlikely contingencies allows you to enjoy your child’s bright future with a little extra peace of mind. To create an estate plan for your college student (or update your own), please contact Gudorf Law Group to schedule a consultation.