Must-Have Legal Documents for College Students

It’s that time of year when you’re thinking of all the to-dos to get the kids off to college. While your children may be looking forward to their newfound freedom, you’re likely grappling with “empty nest syndrome” and wondering how you’ll continue caring for them, as you have throughout their entire lives, while they’re away from home.

For many parents, legal documents are the furthest thing from their minds. However, without the proper documentation in place for kids 18 and over, you lose the right to make medical, legal or financial decisions for your children—or to even know what's going on with your children during an emergency.

We strongly advise parents get these documents in place before your children go to or return to college.

Advance Medical Directive—The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) becomes extremely important when your child leaves for college. Without it, healthcare providers are prohibited from sharing any information with you if an unfortunate accident should arise requiring medical intervention. No one wants to consider this scenario, but accidental injuries such as car accidents and sports-related incidents are commonplace for college students. Making sure your child executes this document will permit you to access health care and treatment information.

A directive will also outline your child's wishes about life-extending medical treatment, preserving his or her autonomy.

Without a medical directive, a court or ethics board may end up making decisions about your child's treatment plan.

Power of Attorney—A Durable Power of Attorney will allow you to make legal and financial decisions on behalf of your child should he or she become incapacitated. Specific requirements of these documents vary by state. However, these decisions often encompass managing bank accounts, paying bills, filing taxes, or breaking a lease, among others.

Without a Durable Power of Attorney, you will not be able to assist your child in managing financial affairs without a court-appointed conservatorship or guardianship.

Other Considerations—For children attending college out of state, parents may want to execute documents in both their home and school states as laws may differ.

You should also be prepared to resign and re-execute these documents every couple years as decisions may change when children grow older, and documents may be perceived as outdated by acting institutions.

While unthinkable for parents, the risk is real and the issues are complex. As with any legal matter, you should consult with an attorney to put a plan in place to protect you and your children from having to deal with critical legal decisions during any unfortunate, unforeseen situations.

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