As parents scramble this month to buy their college-bound children dorm necessities and teach them last-minute life lessons, there’s something else they should add to the college to-do list: encourage their children to put in place a power of attorney.

By establishing these documents for their health care and financial needs, children can grant their parents legal authority to act on their behalf should they become incapacitated while attending school.

“Kids aren’t thinking about this at all,” says Jennifer Guimond-Quigley, an estate planning and family law attorney who runs a solo practice in Chicago. “It’s not on their radar.” The same is true for most parents. She talks to her clients about powers of attorney fairly routinely this time of year, she says, and has drafted these documents for some of their children.

While parents can’t force a child to draft or sign a power of attorney, they are the best person to broach the topic because children, she says, “need to hear it from a trusted adult,” she says. Fortunately, none of her clients’ children have had a disabling event. However, “I think we can all imagine scenarios,” she says, either from personal experiences or from incidents in the news. “Estate planning is for the ‘what ifs’ in life,” she adds. “It’s the no brainer.”

Having a power of attorney in place usually prevents someone from having to go to court to get permission to act as a person’s proxy, which she notes is both expensive and time consuming. A power of attorney that’s validly executed in the state in which an individual has full-time residency is usually honored across the U.S., she says. But if a child attends school out of state, a family can have their attorney contact an attorney where the school is located to confirm this, she adds.

In many states, a power of attorney for health care is pretty broad, covering such factors as access to medical records, whether to discharge a patient from a hospital and when to withdraw life-sustaining treatment. Language can also be included that discusses details regarding organ and tissue donation and how to dispose of remains, she says.

Guimond-Quigley thinks a good way to approach the topic of health care with college students is to simply explain to them what the document does and to let them know that their designated power of attorney will do what they think is best. If children trust their parents or another adult they assign, they should trust what they’ll do for them, she says.

College students typically don’t have many financial assets, but they may have bank accounts, credit cards and apartment leases in their name. Digital assets can also be added to a financial power of attorney, she says. This includes online accounts students have with financial institutions and their school, and their social media and e-mail accounts. Without access to these accounts, parents might not know about bills, potential account overdrafts and doctors their children are seeing, she says.

Depending how a power of attorney is set up, a student can give a parent authorization to see grades, reports from teachers and outstanding tuition balances. A student with privacy concerns can consider restricting a parent’s authority to bills only, she says.

Some states provide standard power of attorney forms online that individuals can use to create their own documents. But Guimond-Quigley thinks it’s prudent to work with an attorney who is well-versed in the drafting and execution of a power of attorney because this document is so important. She will do a power of attorney as a one-off service for a student who doesn’t require a comprehensive estate plan.

First « 1 2 » Next