In the coming weeks, many parents will drop off their eighteen-year old children on a university campus. Long hours were spent thinking about and acquiring everything the college freshman will need in his or her first year out of the home and operating (for the most part) as an adult in the real world. It is very likely that estate planning did not make the list for most parents. When an individual turns the age of majority (eighteen in most states), they have capacity to sign legal documents and instruments, so long as all other capacity requirements are met. This includes estate planning documents. Consequently, the parents' rights of custody and control are automatically altered. Given these big life changes, there are estate planning considerations that should be discussed with a college freshman prior to his or her departure for their first year of college.
HIPPA and Health Care Directives
A college student should have a plan in place in case he or she needs assistance with their health care and medical decisions. HIPPA immediately prevents a child's mother and father from accessing protected health care information upon their eighteenth birthday. However, many eighteen-year-olds are not ready for complete autonomy and would prefer one or both of their parents remain involved in their health care, including obtaining information and making appointments. The eighteen-year-old must execute a HIPPA release naming the parent or parents that they wish to remain involved in their healthcare.
In addition, a college student's parent is no longer presumed to have the ability to make health care decisions for them, even when they cannot do so, because the college student is no longer a minor. A Health Care Power of Attorney allows the student to appoint someone to make health care decisions for them in any scenario they cannot make those decisions. Issues arise if this document is not in place and the student needs this assistance which triggers the involvement of the probate court.
Durable General Power of Attorney
College students may not be ready to handle their own finances as a freshman. If this is the case, they should have a plan in place so that a parent or other trusted adult can help with their financial matters. By signing a Durable General Power of Attorney, the student can appoint this parent or trusted adult as their agent to act on their behalf for anything legal or financial. This document is also helpful to have in place in the event that the student becomes incapacitated at any point during their time enrolled in college. This document is revocable and can be cancelled or changed at any time. When the college student undergoes circumstantial changes, they have complete power and authority to alter the plan they have in place.
Most college students have assets. Even if their checking account has a $5 balance, it counts. It is important for any legal adult with assets to learn how to manage these assets as they will be acquiring more and more as they work their way through school and enter their chosen profession. Part of asset management is ensuring that beneficiaries are named correctly.
Each college freshman will go away to college with different estate planning needs. Some may require additional documents. Others may not be eighteen when they start their freshman year. Either way, each parent should have a conversation with their college aged child and an estate planning attorney about the documents they should have in place. With the proper planning, there will be less to worry about for both parent and child. Best of luck to all first-year college students as they embark on their first semester.