Fall semester is well under way. Students have bought books, moved into dorms, and are navigating the academic and social milieu of college life. One thing you may have forgotten to add to the checklist: an estate plan for your collegiate child.
As parents, we don’t like to consider the unthinkable: that something serious will happen to our children, leaving them seriously injured or, God forbid, dead. That’s precisely why it is imperative that parents of children who have reached the age of majority (18 in most states) consider engaging with an estate planning attorney to have a “starter” estate plan drafted for their adult children.
Why a Starter Estate Plan?
The age of majority is when a child is legally considered an adult and is responsible for their own affairs. This includes making decisions for themselves with regard to finances and health care.
But what if a child is unable to make those decisions?
Consider this scenario: you live on the west coast and your child is attending college back east. Your child goes on a skiing trip with friends and is seriously injured and unconscious. Without proper legal authority, you, the parent, will not have the ability to make health care decisions for your injured child.
Furthermore, due to privacy laws like the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the hospital is prohibited from releasing any information about your child without prior consent from the patient. If your child has not provided that consent in advance, you could be stuck unable to learn anything about your child’s condition.
While this may seem like a worst-case scenario, the fact remains that if your adult child is incapacitated, you could encounter obstacles to getting information or making financial or health-related decisions on your child’s behalf – even though you still may be financially responsible for your child (paying for college, room, board, health insurance, and so on).
Elements of a Starter Estate Plan
An estate planning attorney can draft the necessary documents your child will need in order to give you, as parents, decision-making authority should the worst happen. These include:
- Durable Power of Attorney for Finance – This document allows you to step into your child’s shoes to handle his or her financial affairs.
- Advance Health Care Directive (also known in some states as a Power of Attorney for Health Care and a Living Will) – Like with the Durable Power of Attorney for Finance, an Advance Health Care Directive allows you to step into the shoes of your adult child and make health care decisions for them.
- HIPAA waiver – The HIPAA privacy waiver, which authorizes medical professionals to release patient information to you, is sometimes incorporated into the Advance Health Care Directive itself or can be a separate document.
Another area to consider is FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, under which access to all educational records go to the student once they are legally considered an adult. Students need to sign a waiver authorizing parents to receive their student records, such as grades and attendance. If you are footing the bill for college, you will probably want to know how your child is doing. Some attorneys will include a FERPA waiver as part of the Starter Estate Plan.
Your adult child will need to meet with the attorney to have these documents prepared and signed. Attorneys usually offer these plans for a very reasonable cost compared with a full estate plan.
While no one likes to think of something terrible happening to their children, obtaining a “starter” estate plan for your children that have reached the age of majority is a small price to pay for the security of knowing that should the unthinkable happen, you can be there in an instant when your child needs you most.
Comments or feedback? Contact me on Twitter @juanros.