Once children turn 18 or go off to college, they should consider preparing a Power of Attorney. As I write this over the summer of 2020, there is growing uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year. One thing that is for certain, if you have children in college, you should discuss with them putting in place the following legal documents, designed to make things easier in a medical emergency:
Power of Attorney for Healthcare: This provides for a legal decision maker over anything health related when the person is not making decisions for him or herself. If your child does not have one, the doctor may decide (or in extreme cases, a judge). Do not assume that because you are ‘the parent’ that your wishes will be followed.
Power of Attorney for Property: By naming you (the parent) in this document, you become legally allowed to act in any financial or legal way necessary (outside of the medical arena). The document gives broad powers and would include accessing bank accounts, handling administrative tasks at the university or dealing with a lease.
Powers of Attorney are state specific and I encourage students to draft one in their home state (where they came from, usually where mom and dad live) and one in the state where they go to school. We hope to never need them, but if we have collectively learned anything this year, it is that life can be turned upside down in an instant, in ways we have never imagined. Preparation is critical.
While most colleges and universities offer forms that students may fill out granting their parents ‘access’ to medical records, the terms of the forms may differ, may be revocable, and having access under HIPPA doesn’t go far enough, depending on the situation. Further, if your child is hurt or falls ill off campus and the documents are locked up in a school computer somewhere, they may be of no use. While use of the college provided forms are certainly encouraged, Powers of Attorney will go further and can supplement what a college form lacks.
Can you use a free or cheap online Power of Attorney? Yes. Free online forms are an acceptable solution for some families and are better than doing nothing. However, most parents feel more comfortable using the services of an attorney in order to make sure that it is done correctly and to talk through the ramifications of the various decisions that need to be made. For example, should the form ‘kick in’ immediately or upon some future event? Should there be more than one agent and how are conflicts avoided? Does it need to be specifically tailored if there are some decisions that the child does not want the parent making? A good lawyer isn’t just going to fill in the blanks for you to print and sign. A lawyer will listen to your concerns and make sure that the child’s objectives are being met, as well as providing guidance on the optional provisions and what to do once the forms are executed.
I have been helping families create powers of attorney for most of my career, and from time to time have also assisted with more comprehensive estate planning; which I no longer do. I am unable to offer wills and trusts due to time constraints; but I am pleased to offer powers of attorney to people who are only looking for this service, with priority going to college students and those on the front lines of the pandemic.
All services are now done remotely, due to COVID. No in-person meetings, same level of top quality service. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.