This past week, countless parents posted back to school photos all over social media. Regardless of the age or grade, parents lamented that time flies by too quickly. I’m feeling this too because my youngest is in his last year of pre-school and the middle one will be plotting with her friends to take over kindergarten. Wasn’t it just last month that we lugged diapers, onesies, and a stroller everywhere?
For parents of college students, the challenge of accepting that your kids are now adults, at least in the eyes of the law, must be even greater. These kids (adults) leave home to pursue their education and career goals. Some stay local, others go halfway, or even all the way across the country. Their minds are already filled with thoughts about their class schedules, clubs to join, and their social plans. Furthest from their minds (and probably yours too) is estate planning and the serious responsibilities that come with becoming a legal adult. Most college freshman are at least 18, this means they are legal adults and things you used to control are now theirs to manage. The time has come for your legal adult to fly out of your nest, but don’t let them fly off before they sign the following documents.
Adulting is Real
Before they turned 18, you had access to their financial accounts and could make all of their healthcare decisions. Once they turn 18, they are now adults under state law and the rights of a parent to make decisions for an adult child can be limited. You may no longer have the legal right to access your child’s health, financial, and education records (even if you are helping pay for tuition). Scary as it may seem, they are in control now. As a quick aside, some of the parental anxiety comes from wondering if we’ve done enough as parents to get them ready for their responsibilities.
Even if they are already settled into their dorm or apartment, you should discuss situations that could occur. Show them the value of having the following estate planning documents completed so they can get help from you if/when they might desperately need it. Without these documents in place, the only way parents could access medical & financial information of their adult children would be to go to court. Signing these documents will ensure that if they ever do need your help and guidance, you’ll have the legal authority to easily provide it.
Advance Health Care Directive
A medical power of attorney allows a person to name an agent (like you), who has the power to make healthcare decisions for them if they’re incapacitated and unable make these decisions for themselves. For example, this authority would allow you to make medical decisions if your child is knocked unconscious in a car accident or falls into a coma due to an illness.
Having and Advance Health Care Directive could have come in handy when I was a freshman in college. After experiencing significant abdominal pain, I asked a friend to take me to the hospital. He was nice enough to drop me off and I then had to fend for myself. Turned out I had acute appendicitis, so surgery was scheduled for the following day. At that time, laparoscopic surgery was a “new” thing and I still had to be put under general anesthesia. Thankfully, everything well smoothly and I was discharged two days after surgery. If something went wrong, the situation would have been much more complicated because I was over 1,000 miles from my parents and I certainly didn’t have an advance health care directive completed.
That said, while medical power of attorney would give you authority to view your child’s medical records and make treatment decisions, that authority only goes into effect if the child becomes incapacitated. This means that unless your child is incapacitated, you do not have the authority to view their medical records, which are considered private under HIPAA.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) passed in 1996. HIPAA requires the safeguarding of people’s medical information. Health care providers and insurance companies must protect the privacy of a patient’s health records. Once your child becomes 18, no one — even parents — is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission.
If your child signs a HIPAA authorization or release, you could receive medical information about your child’s condition and their proposed treatment if an accident or health issue occurs. This can be critical if you ever need to make informed decisions about your child’s medical care. A HIPAA authorization can also be helpful if your child asks you to speak with a medical provider because “you know what questions to ask”.
Living Will – “Just Pull the Plug”
A living will provides instructions to family and medical provider regarding the provision of artificial life support. No one wants to think about the some of the what-ifs of life, especially as your dropping your child off at their new dorm room or new home, but it is important to plan for worst-case scenarios like this.
A living will details how they want medical decisions made for them, not just who makes them. But such power only goes into effect if the person is terminally ill, or in a persistent vegetative state.
Your child may have certain wishes for their end-of-life care that might be different from yours. It’s important that you discuss these decisions with them, then have it documented in a living will. For example, a living will allows your child to decide when and if they want life support removed if they ever require it. Because these are literally life-or-death decisions, you should document them in a living will to ensure they’re properly carried out.
Pro Tip: Make sure there is a provision in the living will that says which document, living will or advanced health care directive is boss. The last thing anyone wants in that type of situation is a conflict between documents.
Durable Power of Attorney
If your child becomes incapacitated, you’ll also need a durable power of attorney to access his or her financial accounts, while also being able to be the person that can legally deal with school officials, their landlord, and any utility companies on their behalf. If you do not have a signed, financial durable power of attorney, you would need to go to court to get this power.
If your child is getting ready to leave the nest to attend college or pursue some other life goal, you can trust your advisor to help you be a hero to your family and to help your child legally protect their healthcare and end-of-life wishes. With us in your corner, you’ll have peace of mind that your child will be well taken care of in the event of an unforeseen accident or illness.
While as parents, we may see this as too grim a task during such an exciting time, it is important to understand that your young adult will appreciate the opportunity to be a part of an adult matter and making adult decisions. Use this moment of being a responsible adult to teach them a valuable lesson in planning for their future and to build a solid financial foundation for the rest of their life.
Indeed, these documents are provided as part of every estate plan we create. They are a critical part of the entire package. Generally, we do not split apart these documents from an estate plan. But, to help increase awareness and get more students protected, we’ll help prepare documents for any college student in Florida for $91, if you act before 9/7/18. Yes, you can pass this offer to your network!