One of the most exciting times in a young adult’s life is heading out on their own after graduating from high school.
For most graduates, and their parents, estate planning is probably the last thing on their minds. Most graduates do not have much in the way of assets to protect, so why would they need an estate plan?
The often overlooked, and scary, answer: Once your child turns 18, he or she is considered an adult in the eyes of the law, and a lot of the rights we have as parents go away. With adulthood, comes certain privacy rights and independence under the law. It is vital to have a candid conversation with your college student prior to dropping them off at school.
Without the proper directives in place, you may find, as the parent or person paying tuition, that you can’t access information, or help your child in ways you thought you could. Try to decide in advance how much information, such as grades, finances and health records, you will be able to access. Here are two basic, yet critical, estate-planning documents to complete before your child is college-bound.
Healthcare power of attorney/advance directive with HIPAA provision.
When a child is away at school and falls ill, or needs medical attention (including mental health), most parents assume that they will be contacted, and will have all the rights and responsibilities to direct care. You may be surprised to know that an 18-year-old is protected under federal HIPAA law (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). This means medical professionals will require a release signed by the child — or worse, a court order – before sharing health care information or records with a parent.
Waiting until a medical event occurs, when a child may be incapacitated, even temporarily, is too late. In the absence of such an authorization or release, parents will find themselves unable to act on a child’s behalf, and court intervention is required. This is no time to be burdened by the cost and bureaucracy of our legal system when, literally, every minute counts. In the absence of a healthcare power of attorney and advance directive with HIPAA provision, a parent would have to file a petition to be named their child’s legal guardian.
A healthcare power of attorney/advance directive with a HIPAA provision appoints an agent or agents to make health care decisions on a child’s behalf. It also offers direction from the adult child about the decisions they would like their agent to make.
Each school also may have its own form of medical release papers. While school releases are not a substitute for healthcare directives, signing them in advance may speed the process in assisting your child with health-care matters. Consult your child’s university health services website for this information.
General durable power of attorney.
This document is similar to the healthcare power of attorney, in that it appoints an agent or agents to make decisions on behalf of a child. However, this document relates to financial matters. This may include granting the agent(s) access to bank accounts, school scholarship funds, rental agreements, insurance matters (auto and health) or other similar issues.
While most parents are actively involved in the care and responsibility of their college-age children, there are real-world implications associated with children reaching the age of 18. Advance preparation can reduce greatly any potential legal hurdles. Planning with your kids might seem awkward at first, but broaching the subject acknowledges their new-found adulthood, and reinforces their independence.
By Josh Nelson, contributing writer and elder care law attorney with Nelson Elder Care Law, LLC.