Many of our clients, as they create their estate plans, execute a number of documents including wills, trusts, a durable power of attorney for legal and financial issues, a medical or healthcare power of attorney, as well as a HIPAA release form for each other. As they get older, most of our clients understand that these foundational documents are critical to a good estate plan, and they are necessary in the event of a spouse's accident or illness.
However, most clients do not think about having these documents for their college-age children. It is a difficult subject to broach, however, once a child turns age 18, he or she is legally a stranger to their parents. If a child should happen to have an accident or illness while they are away at college and are taken to a hospital or medical facility, the hospital staff and attending physicians are not legally allowed to share information with the parents or take directions from the parents if they can't show that they have the proper documentation. It's emotionally difficult to talk through these issues, but if YOUR child is unable to communicate because they are sick, injured, or possibly even in surgery, the alternative is even more painful.
At a minimum, the parent should consider at least having a durable power of attorney for legal and financial issues, a healthcare or medical power of attorney (depending on your state of residence) and a HIPAA release form that allows medical professionals to share information with them about their son or daughter. With these documents in hand, parents would be able to discuss medical conditions, make decisions, and even sign papers on the child's behalf about financial and educational issues with their college. Please keep the original documents in a safe place at home, put also have a PDF of the forms in an easily accessible electronic location as most institutions will accept these.
Please let us know if you have questions or need a referral to an estate planning attorney that can help you with these very important issues and documents.