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Many people think that estate planning is only for older people – but it actually starts as early as college! When most students go to college, they are adults. This means they can take out loans, manage their time and course load, and generally make decisions for themselves. While parents’ lack of access to grades and other information can be frustrating, if children have not considered their estate planning, the surprises can be far more serious. Besides being the provider of food, housing, and often transportation, parents are the “natural guardians” over minor children. This means they are their child’s legal representative and can act on behalf of their children in financial and personal matters.
For example, if a minor child falls off a trampoline and breaks his arm, his parents can legally make medical decisions on behalf of the child. The same goes for financial matters. Parents can open financial accounts for their minor children, apply for life insurance, and so on. When those children turn 18, their parents’ power over them disappears. If an adult child is incapacitated in a car accident, his parent cannot by default make health care decisions for the child. The same goes for financial matters. So, what do parents and college kids need to consider to protect themselves in these scenarios?
There are 2 parts to this – first, a Health Care Power of Attorney, can give his parents authority over a child’s health decisions. This takes effect only if the child cannot make his own health care decisions. Health Care Powers of Attorney are also very broad and can give parents the right to make any decision about their child’s health care, including whether to withdraw life support in extreme cases. Children can also have a HIPAA release on file with their doctor as well, which lets them share medical information with their parents.
And the second part is a Durable General Power of Attorney, sometimes called a Financial Power of Attorney. That authority can be effective immediately, which would really be the preferred method, or “spring” into effect if the child becomes incapacitated.
It’s important to note that if you don’t take these steps, a parent can still obtain control over a child’s financial and health care decisions, but only though a guardianship through the probate courts. Although that is often a time-consuming and expensive, and generally, a parent can’t spend a child’s money without court approval.
So, as you can see, estate planning really does start as early as college. If you have kids or grandkids heading off to or already at college, you may want to consider how you are protecting them.