As colleges and universities begin classes in the fall, students are leaving home and headed for campus. Sometimes that campus is right down the street, and sometimes is on the other side of the country or the other side of the world. What many students and their parents seldom think about is the value of having a “power of attorney” for their student in place when they head off to school. One of the reasons that this is often overlooked is because the child, whether legally an adult or not, is often still a dependent on the parents, whether literally or practically. But once a child turns 18 years, old, they are legally an adult, and that has specific consequences in various situations.
Why have a Power of Attorney for a College Student?
There are a number of reasons to have a power of attorney for a college student that rarely occur to a parent until it is needed. Years of being in the role of parent often makes a number of things invisible, whether it is making doctors appointments, handling financial matters, or filling out paperwork. Once the child turns 18 your legal parental rights terminate, even if you are paying tuition, claiming them on your taxes, or maintaining them on your insurance policy. The rights that you had before to do things on their behalf no longer are there, and it isn’t something that most parents or students are thinking about until a situation arises where this can become a serious problem.
One of the most difficult situations that can come up is in the case of accidents or illness. For young people aged 18-25, accidents are a very real possibility. If a college aged student is involved in an accident and hospitalized, a parent does not automatically have the right to be given information about their child’s condition, and often have no automatic say in being able to direct any kind of treatment. This can be an even more difficult challenge if the student is in a condition where they cannot make these decisions for themselves. A Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions can address those issues giving the parents both access to information and giving them the legal right to make certain decisions on behalf of the student. Even if medical issues are not at play, Durable Power of Attorney can be very helpful for assisting the student with financial matters, signing legal documents, and having access to banking and other records where absent a Power of Attorney, the parents will likely be denied on the basis of privacy and other policies.
Which type of Power of Attorney makes most sense for a College Student?
Powers of Attorney, whether for healthcare or other matters can be General or Durable, the latter being preferable in the situations that would likely arise for a parent and their adult child student. They can also go into effect immediately upon signing or come into effect upon the occurrence of some event, such as the student’s disability or incapacity, often referred to as a “springing” power of attorney. The challenge in the latter scenario is that often someone, such as a doctor, is required to decide that the student has reached that state (i.e. disability or incapacity). This is not always helpful in those situations where the student simply needs the parents to take certain actions on their behalf. Different situations and needs call for different combinations of powers to be delegated in a Power of Attorney, and some flexibility can be achieved through thoughtful drafting.
Powers of Attorney require trust.
A creation of a Power of Attorney requires trust between the person delegating authority and the one to whom it is granted, since these documents give a great deal of power to the the agent (“Attorney-in-Fact”). Not unlike the elderly that are wary of signing a Power of Attorney, a young person seeking independence from their parents may be resistant to having their parents continue to have access and potential control over various parts of their lives. In some situations, adult family members other than the parents have been deemed the appropriate agent for the adult child when preparing the Power of Attorney. In any case, having a Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions and a Durable Power of Attorney for financial and other matters is one of the basic estate planning tools that a young person should have. Talking to your student about getting one into place before you take them off to their dorm this fall should be on your checklist along with your other college preparations.
Jeffrey Possinger is the managing partner of Possinger Law Firm, PLLC in Woodinville, Washington and brings to his clients a wealth of professional experience and expertise in business, law, and politics. He advises clients on legal, regulatory, and public affairs, and has represented clients in a variety of complex and difficult matters.
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