How to Prepare for College, the Estate Planning Way
Once a child turns 18 years of age, they are an adult in the eyes of the law.
Parents - that means you have now lost the ability to obtain medical information, handle financial issues, or otherwise assist your kids as they step into adulthood and learn how to manage their own affairs.
For example, if you call the university’s health clinic and ask for billing information about your daughter’s recent visit or a copy of the prescription they wrote for your son so you can get it filled while he's home on break, the health clinic does not have to share that information with you. In fact, the health clinic would be breaking the law if they did share those details with you.
Do not fall into the trap of believing that just because your child is on your health insurance policy that you have a say in their medical care. That is not how it works!
Suppose your child is doing a study abroad and they need you to handle their bills, sign the lease for the apartment they'll be renting next semester, get the car inspected, take the cat to the vet while they are gone, or one of a million other things that you would do for your child without hesitation if they asked, then you need a legal document that you gives the authority to act as their proxy for these matters.
So what is a worried parent to do?
(1) Talk to your attorney!!!
There are three key documents every college-age student should put in place to allow Mom and/or Dad the ability to help out when needed:
1. a Durable Power of Attorney, which gives parents the legal authority to assist with financial and personal matters;
2. a Health Care Power of Attorney, which gives parents the authority to make medical and mental health care decisions if the student is incapable of making decisions for himself or herself; and
3. a HIPAA Authorization, which gives parents the ability to obtain information from doctors, nurses, clinics, hospitals, etc. about the health and well-being of the student as well as details of any bills that need to be paid, and if tragedy strikes and you lose your child, the authorization will allow you to get copies of your son or daughter's medical records more easily..
You should also consider having your child sign a FERPA release which would allow you to get access to your child's grades and other educational records.
(2) Talk to your child!!!
Make sure your child understands you are not trying to undermine his or her independence. This is not a way for you to exert control. Explain that these are tools that will allow you to help your child, as you have done for your child's entire life. In an emergency, your child will want his or her parent making decisions about what's best, not the hospital and certainly not the court.
Young adults think they are invincible and that they are going to live forever (I remember a time when I thought 30 was old. How foolish was I. Haha). But, we live in a world where tomorrow is not guaranteed. Take the right steps to help secure your child's future!