Graduating from high school and looking toward college years is an exciting time for teenagers (even if they’re too cool to admit it). The future is filled with endless possibilities: from this point, they can go anywhere, do anything, pursue any career and life they want. Unfortunately, as parents know all too well, not every possibility is a bright one, and futures don’t always turn out the way we hope. In order to have peace of mind as your children pursue their dreams, it’s important to talk to them about estate planning documents for college students.
We know—it’s not a conversation anyone really wants to have. Talking to aging parents about estate planning is hard, but most senior citizens at least understand the importance of having a plan in place. For most high school seniors, on the other hand, the possibility of death or disability seems remote, and they would most prefer to focus on the exciting changes in the immediate future.
The odds are, of course, that your children will go off to college, graduate before you know it, and go on to have long, healthy lives. Even so, it’s wise to be prepared for the worst, so you’ll have peace of mind whatever the future holds.
Estate Planning for College Students
It’s very unlikely that your teenager is going to approach you asking to create an estate plan, so you’re going to have to raise the topic for them. The best way is often just to normalize it as one of the things adults do—and they are becoming adults.
You might say something like, “There are a lot of things to take care of before you head off to college (or military training, or work). One of them is having legal documents in place in case of an emergency. It’s just something that all adults should do. I don’t expect anything to go wrong, but it’s always best to be prepared.” If you have your own estate plan and incapacity plan in place, you can offer to make an appointment for them with your trusted attorney. If you need to make or update your own plan, you can make appointments for the same day, though you’ll likely meet separately with the attorney.
Estate Planning Documents for College Students
Your child probably knows next to nothing about estate planning, but your attorney will ask relevant questions and provide all the guidance they need. In our office, we like to encourage young people to plan for their future, and we try to make the experience as positive as possible. After all, they will need to update their plans throughout their lives, and we want them to feel comfortable doing so. Here are some of the estate planning documents college students and other young adults need.
Patient Advocate Designation (PAD)
One of the most important estate planning documents your college student will need is a patient advocate designation, or PAD. Called a “health care power of attorney” or “medical power of attorney” in some states, this document lets your child designate someone (a “designee”) to make their health care decisions if they become unable to. You have been making those decisions for your child all their life, and they may not realize that now that they are eighteen, they have to explicitly authorize you to make healthcare decisions for them.
It will be important to emphasize to your young adult that they are still in charge of their health care, and that their designee only steps in if they cannot make or communicate their own decisions due to a serious illness or injury.
Just as you can no longer consent to medical procedures on behalf of your young adult child, you also have no independent legal right to health information from their medical providers. The federal laws that protect the privacy of your medical information also protect your adult child’s—even from you.
That’s why it is important to remind your child to execute HIPAA releases with each of their healthcare providers. Remind them that they don’t have to authorize their doctors to share all information with you; your student may not want you to be aware that they’re seeing a counselor or getting a prescription for birth control. And assure your child that if you have a question about their health, you’ll talk to them first. A HIPAA release should allow you to get medical information to help your child when necessary—not to keep tabs on them.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney allows your adult child (the principal) to appoint you or someone else (the agent) to manage their financial business. A financial power of attorney can be as broad or as narrow as the principal needs it to be. The word “durable” in this context means that the power of attorney is still effective in the event the principal becomes incapacitated—which is exactly the situation for which your college student would want a power of attorney.
A durable power of attorney can also be “springing,” meaning that it would not take effect unless and until the principal is incapacitated. If your child names you as their agent under such a durable financial power of attorney, you will be able to access their bank accounts, pay their bills, and manage their student loans—but only if they are legally unable to do so.
Last Will and Testament
College students usually don’t even think about having a will—both because they expect to be alive for many more decades and because they often don’t have a lot of assets. Even so, having a will allows them to designate who they want their property to go to, and who should serve as personal representative (executor) of their estate.
Young adults can also use their will to dictate what will happen to something they probably do have and care about: their social media accounts and other digital assets. In short, a will is one of the estate planning documents almost everyone should have, regardless of how much they have in the bank.
Like the HIPAA release, a FERPA release isn’t technically an estate planning document, but it can help you get needed information about your child in case of an emergency. FERPA stands for “Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” a federal law that protects the privacy of college students. Unfortunately, the law also sometimes has the unintended effect of keeping colleges and universities from sharing important information and records with parents when needed. A properly-drafted release, usually available from the college, can let parents of a student and university officials communicate more freely, especially in a crisis. As with a HIPAA release, the student can limit what information can be disclosed.
To learn more about estate planning documents for college students and other young adults, contact Estate Planning & Elder Law Services to schedule a consultation.