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Should My College Student Have a Power of Attorney?

Recently, my son graduated from high school, and, after a few trips with his friends this summer, he will be heading off to college in the fall. In addition to getting him all up to date with his dental work and eyeglass prescription and purchasing some new clothes and other items for his college dorm room, I am preparing certain legal documents for him in case of an emergency. This blog discusses the legal documents that I recommend that parents obtain for their college-age students before they head off to college. I recommend these documents because, without them, you, as parents, may not have any legal rights for your children over 18 years of age, even if they are covered under your insurance and you are supporting them financially.

Recommended Documents for Your College Student

The following is a list of the documents that I recommend for college-aged students:

Durable General Powers of Attorney. This financial power of attorney gives the student’s parents the authority to sign legal documents on behalf of the student and also gives the parents access to direct transactions for the student’s financial accounts. In general, I recommend that the student sign a durable general power of attorney to cover all financial matters. In addition, in some cases, I also recommend that the student sign the form provided by the financial institution for the student’s accounts. Having this legal authorization in place will give you authorization to assist your student. This is particularly important if your student is studying abroad for a semester or two.

Health Care Powers of Attorney and Living Wills. These documents allow you, as the parent, to make medical decisions for your student if he or she cannot make them. In case they are ever needed, make sure that these medical powers of attorney also have mental health care powers within them. Without a health care power of attorney, you may be precluded from making medical decisions for your student in an emergency situation. A Living Will, or a similar document, is the student’s wishes for his or her end of life decisions.

HIPAA Forms. HIPAA is the acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which provides that your student’s medical records and information is protected from third parties. This is generally a good thing, except when the third party is the parent. This form authorizes medical care providers to release and share medical information about the students with their parents. Without it, medical providers are legally prohibited from sharing this information with others, even mom and dad.

Wills. In most cases a Will is not necessary for your college-age student, because he or she does not own any significant assets. In some cases, however, I also recommend that a college-age student have a Will. Without a Will, Arizona intestate laws indicate that one-half of the student’s estate goes to mom, and one-half of their estate goes to dad, provided that your student does not have any children of their own.

Some Other Thoughts . . .

Here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  1. Allow at least 30-45 days to get these documents completed if you have an attorney prepare them for you (That is why it is a good idea to start the process in June, rather than in August.);
  2. Once they are prepared, have copies made for the parents and the student (and preferably pdf copies too) to use when you need them;
  3. Discuss with your student privacy issues and the scenarios when these documents might be used.
  4. If the student goes out of state, I recommend having these forms prepared in your home state, and I also recommend completing similar school forms at the school in the school state to avoid any challenges; and
  5. Make sure to also complete the FERPA form at your student’s school. FERPA stands for Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. This form will allow the school personnel to talk with you about your student’s grades, tuition bill, and other general matters.

Seek an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

As you can see, there are several legal documents to keep in mind for your college-age student as he or she heads off to school. Although it is possible to do these legal documents on your own, I always recommend seeking the help of an experienced estate planning attorney to prepare these documents, so that you can be assured that they are prepared correctly.

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John Even

Our firm has helped hundreds of families just like yours handle a wide variety of estate planning, business planning, probate, trust, and elder law issues. When families or business owners are not getting along, we can also handle any disputes and litigation related to their businesses, wills, trusts, guardianships, or conservatorships. Please give me a call, so that I can help you work through these difficult issues with confidence.

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