College Kids and Young Adults – What Planning Documents Do They Need?

Legal Alert

As young family members head off to school or for new jobs, and especially in this time of uncertainty, parents may wonder if they may suddenly be needed to assist with health care or other decisions for their child. Many parents are surprised when they are unable to obtain information about their college-age or young adult children.  HIPAA and other privacy laws may prevent parents from easily obtaining information about a child in the hospital, for example.  For that reason, we recommend that children going off to college, or other young adults who may rely on their parents in case of emergency, sign health care directives and possibly also financial powers of attorney. 

Health Care Documents: A variety of federal and state laws prohibit your adult child’s doctor from disclosing “individually identifiable health information and medical records.” That means that your adult child could be having serious physical or emotional medical issues, and neither the college nor the healthcare provider will be able to discuss them with you. If your child is cooperative, he or she can sign an Advance Directive or Power of Attorney for Health Care (the name varies by state, but the concept is the same). This document authorizes the named agent to make medical decisions if the signer is unable to do so. It typically authorizes the release of confidential medical information to the named agent. Completing the form with your child also provides an opportunity to discuss your child’s wishes regarding a variety of medical matters. You may not know what your child would want, and he or she is now empowered to set forth care decisions as an adult.  If your child is studying in or moving to another state, it is good practice to have him or her sign a health care directive for that state as well as your home state.  It can also be beneficial to have your child sign a simple authorization to disclose protected health information to simplify disclosures where decisions need not be made by the parent or authorized family member.

Financial Accounts: If your child has assets in his or her own name (such as a bank or brokerage account), it may be helpful for you to be able to sign on that account, particularly if your child is far away or abroad. Having your child sign a financial or durable power of attorney can enable you to manage his or her finances if needed. 

Beneficiary designations. We also sometimes recommend either having your child add you as a joint tenant with right of survivorship or designating you or the child’s sibling(s) as beneficiaries under a transfer on death designation to facilitate disposition at death of financial assets without the need for a will. You may wish to discuss with us since estate tax and other considerations may affect who is named as beneficiary and whether a will or trust is needed.

Passwords: Most young adults conduct their lives online. If your child becomes unable to handle financial matters due to temporary incapacity, do you have access to the child’s accounts?

College or University Permission Forms:  Many colleges and universities have institution specific forms that your student can sign to give access to records.  Without authorization to disclose information, federal law prevents disclosures of certain nonmedical records.

For the Enlisted: Helping a teenager who is about to enlist can be complicated.  Some may have chosen this path to seek independence at the earliest possible age, making it harder to help or influence them.  Enlisting in the military comes with benefits that a newly minted graduate might ignore. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard all have their own websites that outline salary and benefits. Members of the military have access to the government’s Thrift Savings Plan to start saving for retirement. The Consumer Federation of America coordinates a campaign called Military Saves that can help both with establishing financial goals and making a plan to meet those goals. Finally, there are the education benefits that come with military service. It’s not too soon to start thinking about how the G.I. Bill could help pay for higher education, including vocational training.

All of these discussions require a level of trust, and not every 18-year-old will provide access to medical information, financial information and online accounts. But as you will hear from any parent whose child is in the emergency room, it’s worth asking. 

Please let us know if you would like to discuss these options in more detail.

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