10 Legal Documents Your Child Needs Before Going to College

College Estate PlanningIs your child ready for college? What do they need to do to be ready? Some steps are obvious. They need to register for classes and choose a meal plan. They may need to shop for new bedding and perhaps a new computer. Having your newly-adult child complete estate planning documents is probably not something that they (or you) are thinking about right now. But there are good reasons to add this to the college preparation list.

When your child turns 18, among other things, they are responsible for their own financial and medical decisions. Often, young adults are eager to exercise some independence, but they may still need your assistance in areas where they lack maturity or simply in areas in which they have no prior experience. Additionally, emergency situations may arise where they need you to step in on their behalf to make important financial or medical decisions. Because they are now adults, you will not be able to act on their behalf without some planning and proper legal documents in place.

Admittedly, it’s not as fun as dorm-room decorating, but here are 10 key legal documents that your adult child should have once they turn 18:

Health Care Power of Attorney/Patient Advocate Designation

When a child is a minor, his or her parent or legal guardian makes medical decisions on their behalf. When your child turns 18, however, you can no longer step in on their behalf without proper written authorization. A Health Care Power of Attorney (in Michigan it is referred to as a Patient Advocate Designation) allows your young adult child to designate someone to make their medical decisions if they are unable to do so. You and your child may agree that they would want you to be able to step in in an emergency, but without the properly executed legal document, your child could face devastating delays in treatment while you wait on a costly court order allowing you to make decisions.

HIPAA Waiver

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) restricts access to an individual’s protected health information without their permission. Once your child turns 18, medical providers won’t be able to discuss your child’s medical condition with you without a HIPAA waiver, even if they’re covered under your health insurance policy.

Ideally, a HIPAA waiver should be integrated with the health care POA. The patient advocate needs all the pertinent medical records and information to make an informed decision. But they must be named in the HIPAA release to access medical information. If the HIPAA is made part of the health care POA, no one has to rifle through documents to find out who can make decisions in case of an emergency.

Financial Power of Attorney

By signing a Durable Power of Attorney (sometimes referred to as a power of attorney for finances), your young adult child can allow you to take care of financial and administrative issues if they become incapacitated. With a DPOA, your child can authorize you to access their bank accounts to pay rent or other bills, sign documents on their behalf, and make financial decisions in their best interest.

A DPOA can also be useful if your child is studying abroad and needs assistance handling things like car registration, renewing their lease, or filing taxes. For that authority, the DPOA will need to be made effective immediately instead of upon incapacity.

Family Education Rights and Privacy Act Waiver

The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulates the privacy of student educational records. Many parents of new college students are surprised to learn that they no longer have a right to access their child’s grades, because the child is over 18 years of age. Nevertheless, parents often have good reasons to be interested in monitoring their child’s academic progress (particularly if they’re footing the bill). If your child signs a FERPA waiver, the school can release that educational information to you.

Medical Records

Your child should provide medical records to the campus medical center or student life office, particularly if they have any special medical conditions or needs. If they’re living on campus, consider whether a resident advisor needs any medical information, and discuss with your attorney how to address this with a HIPAA waiver. At the very least, they should have an up-to-date list of medications they are taking, and they may want to provide that list to the campus medical center.

Living Will

A living will often goes hand-in-hand with a health care POA. A living will is a document that allows you to describe what course of treatment you would like your Patient Advocate to choose if you’re unable to make those decisions for yourself.

It can address things like tube feeding, providing pain relief, and using a ventilator. These are incredibly hard scenarios to think about, especially for your child, but the decisions are much harder to make when you have not had the conversation about their wishes.

Michigan does not recognize living wills as legally binding. However, if there is a dispute about your medical treatment, having a list of preferences regarding quality of life or a separate living will document could be used as evidence of your child’s desired choices.

Health Insurance Documents

Your child may still be covered under your health insurance policy, but it is important to confirm coverage once they turn 18. If they’re going off to college, make sure all contact information and coverage options are updated and that they have an insurance card. Ensure the policy will cover them in their college town and determine where they should go for treatment, so they don’t have to make that decision in the middle of an emergency.

Personal Property Insurance

College students have lots of expensive gadgets and electronics—from laptops and tablets to smartwatches and cameras. Then there are clothes, shoes, bikes, and much more, and all are susceptible to getting lost, stolen, or damaged.

Your homeowner’s insurance may cover their personal belongings while on campus but check to make sure. Ensure that you understand your policy and determine whether they need renter’s insurance.

While you’re at it, review your policy and consider whether you should add personal liability coverage in the event someone gets injured and blames your child.

Passport or Photo ID

Make sure your child has a government-issued photo ID (or two). Having a passport is a good idea because it generally isn’t carried around like a driver’s license. If they lose their driver’s license, they’ll still have a photo ID to use while waiting for a replacement.

Turning 18 is also a good time to ensure your child has their birth certificate and Social Security card. These are more difficult to replace, so discuss the best place to keep them. If they’re taking these to college, consider a small lock box for important items.

List of Key Contacts and Addresses

A list of key contacts with phone numbers, email, and regular addresses can prove useful in several situations. It will help others contact you if your child needs help. And your child needs to know who they can contact if they can’t get in touch with you. The neighbor down the street may be replaced by friends or family closer to their college. Make sure your child keeps their contact information updated on their phone and elsewhere in their room where it can be easily accessed.

Storage of Documents

Getting these documents completed is the first step. Perhaps more important is making sure someone knows where to find these key documents. Discuss what documents will be stored electronically, who has access, and where any paper documents will be stored. Check with your child’s school to see if they have a policy addressing the storage of emergency information.

Although it may be tempting to turn to online DIY estate planning, it’s always best to hire a reputable local estate planning attorney to ensure your documents are valid and customized to your situation. Many people make revisions when they have life changes, and having a trusted estate planning team who knows your family goes a long way in having documents that give you peace of mind and reflect your wishes. If you have questions about estate planning for yourself or the new adults in your family, contact Kreis Enderle’s Estate Planning attorneys.

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