Critical Estate Planning Steps for College Students

College students are getting ready to head back to school. Whether your child goes away to school or commutes from home, don’t let them start the school year without taking these critical estate planning steps:

Have your student sign a medical power of attorney. If your child has an accident or becomes seriously ill, unless your child is under age 18, medical personnel will not discuss your child’s medical condition or treatment with you without authorization. Commonly referred to as a “patient advocate designation,” your child can appoint you to speak with doctors and make medical treatment decisions for them in the event they cannot do so themselves. It’s a good idea for the school’s medical clinic to have a copy on file, too.

Have your child sign a separate HIPAA authorization. Even with a valid medical power of attorney, medical providers may refuse to release your child’s medical information or speak to you regarding their medical condition. Doctors, hospitals, and other medical facilities fear the legal repercussions of unauthorized disclosures of one’s medical information. Even though you are the parent, they will not speak or release information to you without your child’s prior consent. I have handled cases where family members were forced to petition the courts to gain access to their student’s medical information in an emergency.

Finally, have your student sign a durable power of attorney. Parents of college students have all heard the speech from school administrators – “Due to federal privacy regulations, we cannot discuss anything regarding your student without prior written authorization” – and they mean it. To discuss a tuition or dorm bill, dispute a lab fee, or discuss any of your child’s financial affairs with any third party, you need written authorization. That’s where the durable power of attorney comes in to play.

Under a durable power of attorney, you child can appoint you as their agent to handle their personal and financial affairs if they can’t themselves. Everything from banking and bill paying to tuition or room and board issues can be handled by you as your child’s agent. If your child becomes ill or has an accident while away at school, as your child’s agent you will be able to access bank accounts, make sure their bills are paid, and keep their affairs in order until they regain the ability to do so.

This is a very exciting time for college students and parents. Make sure your student is fully prepared by making sure they give you their medical power of attorney, HIPAA authorization, and durable power of attorney.