Back to School: Legal Documents Every College Student Should Have
Is a member of your family thrilled to be heading off to their college or university campus this fall? While we are more than ready to close the book on COVID-19 and get back to raucous football games and crowded lecture halls, it would be foolish to forget the lessons we have learned during this unparalleled time in our history. One of the most valuable lessons of the past 17 months is to plan for the unthinkable.
Parents naturally see themselves as advisors and protectors of their children, even when those now adult children leave for school. Legally, however, once a child turns 18 years old, they are legally separated from their parents. Practically speaking, this means a parent may not be the first person medical personnel or emergency authorities would call in case of an emergency. The following are the 3 most important legal documents a college-aged student should have in place and why they need them.
- Power of Attorney for Management of Financial Affairs. A power of attorney for finances authorizes another person, called an “agent”, to transact personal financial business on behalf of the student in case the student is incapacitated and cannot take care of their own financial affairs. If a parent is named agent, this document gives parents authority to sign documents on their college student’s behalf. It also grants access to the parent, or whichever adult the student specifies, to access and manage the student’s financial accounts as if the agent were the student. The student can specify how much (or how little) access to grant their agent under a power of attorney. A properly-drafted power of attorney for finances is particularly important for students studying abroad, volunteering with humanitarian agencies, or serving missions, as it would allow parents or another trusted adult back home to pay bills, sign tax returns, and access bank accounts.
- Medical Power of Attorney (aka Health Care Directive, aka “Living Will”). A medical power of attorney allows parents (or other agents) to make medical decisions if their student is unable to do so. It may also contain provisions that specify the student’s wishes about medical care in life-or-death situations and may also specify organ donation and burial instructions, for the worst-case scenario. Do not wait until the student is hospitalized to find out who will be able to make urgent medial decisions or discuss treatment options. A straight forward medical power of attorney clears away the confusion.
- HIPAA Release. The Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) can prevent a medical team from sharing information, even with the student’s parents. This is true even if the student is covered by the parents’ medical insurance and even if the parents are paying the bill. Once a child turns 18, a parent has no more right to obtain medical information about their son or daughter than they would to obtain medical information about a stranger. Fortunately, a simple signed HIPAA Release is like a permission slip for obtaining the student’s medical information. Like the power of attorneys discussed above, the student can limit how much information would be disclosed, so they can keep sensitive information private.
JDS Law helps clients with these types of documents every day, but you do not need an attorney to draft them and there are many resources online. Be sure the documents comply with applicable state laws. If the student attends school out of state, the best practice is to execute documents that would be valid in the school state and in their home state. It is also wise to check with the school to see if they have their own forms to complete. Once the documents are fully executed (signed and witnessed or notarized, as required), they should be scanned and saved on the parents’ and student’s smartphones so they can be accessed in a moment’s notice. Depending on whether the college-aged student has assets in his or her name, and the nature and extent of those assets, it may be advisable for the student to name beneficiaries to receive the assets upon death. In some circumstances, it may even be advisable for the student to execute a Last Will and Testament.
One last thing. Although you have been there for them through it all for the first 18 years, as adults, your children can name anyone as their legal proxy, so do not be offended if they name someone other than you. As long as they have named another responsible adult, that still counts as a parenting win.