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Child Starting College? Why You Should Include Estate Planning in the Preparation

Posted by Jim Foster | Oct 23, 2020 | 0 Comments

Two young women celebrating in their graduation cap and gowns.

If you find yourself with a high school senior under your roof, you have probably already been on one or two college visits and may even be in the middle of application season.  You're probably prouder than words can express, but also a little afraid, too. This is an unusual time and it's hard to know what things will look like in a few months or a year.  How can you make sure your kid is going to be safe at school, their new home away from home?  A new, matching sheet set for the dorm sounds great, but it just doesn't seem like quite enough, does it?  So what else can you do?

Actually, there is something, probably not yet on your to-do list, that absolutely can make a big difference.  Schedule an appointment with your local estate planning attorney.

You've probably focused on the fact that, on the cusp of graduating from high school, your child is almost an adult now—meaning that she is going to spread her wings.  But what is essential to remember:  At 18, a college student may still want her mom and dad by her side if she gets sick, but legally, decisions for medical care are no longer yours to make.  If she were to be unconscious from a serious car accident, you may well have to go to court to receive authorization to make health care decisions.  And the judge will have to determine if you are an appropriate guardian to make medical decisions.

The unfortunate reality is that every year, a significant number of people between 18 and 25 wind up in the nation's hospitals, and their parents are often locked out of critical decisions.  Even if your child will still be living at home as they attend classes, in person or online, it's a good idea to plan for a potential emergency situation.

Experts recommend, therefore, that everyone over the age of 18 have a basic estate plan that includes a will or trust, a financial power of attorney, and medical directives that would allow someone they trust to act on their behalf if they aren't able to.

Here are some things to take care of before your child begins college:

  • FERPA Release

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is designed to protect college students' privacy, but it can leave parents locked out in an emergency.  A properly worded release allows school officials to talk with you and release your child's records to you.

  • HIPAA Authorization 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was designed to protect a patient's privacy.  Consider having your child sign an authorization so that—just in case—any necessary doctors can talk to you about your child's condition, care, and treatment.

  • Durable Financial Power of Attorney

This legal document allows you to, e.g., take care of your child's checking or savings accounts, pay bills, etc., if she is unable to—whether due to illness or even just location (for example, if the school is on the other side of the country). 

  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare 

Like the financial version, this permits you to  make medical decisions for your child if your child is unable to do so.

  • Will 

At first glance, this may seem a little silly for the average broke college kid.  In our digital age, however, there are some hidden complexities.  For example, on average, an email account today is tied to 130 or more online accounts, each with their own username and password.  Does your child have thoughts about who should manage their social media and email accounts, receive valuable gaming accounts, and close down other apps and accounts?  It's also a great time in your young adult child's life to instill responsibility by encouraging them to think about planning in the long term.

We've been helping families attain peace of mind for years.  Contact our team at James D. Foster, Attorney at Law, PLLC today to protect your soon-to-be new college student and your family.


Posted by Jim Foster

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Jim Foster

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