A handful of states require graduation from high school or reaching 19 years of age. Mississippi doesn’t consider someone fully adult until they reach 21. But everywhere else, including in Washington state an 18 year old is considered an adult. Let’s think about that for a moment. That means an 18 year old can sue or be sued, agree to a surgery, sign a contract and a whole host of other things that indicates having reached adulthood. It also means that if your college-aged adult child is in an accident, you are no longer entitled to make medical decisions. In fact, because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), you may not even be able to ascertain even basic information about their medical condition. This goes as well for financial information even if you are still supporting them.
Which is why the Wall Street Journal recently printed an article about why your college-aged child needs an estate plan.
Regardless of how much support you are still providing, the law protects all adults from invasion of privacy and gives them the right to govern their own lives. This leaves them with some major amounts of responsibilities requiring them to give someone the authority to make medical and financial decisions for them in the event that they are unable to do so. This is why college students (or any other adult child) should consider some basic estate planning.
Most people think of estate planning and automatically jump to wills. Most college students won’t need wills but they will need some of the other documents that make up an estate plan. Here are some of the documents he or she may need:
- Financial Power of Attorney-If your student decides to study abroad or even in another state, someone may have to take financial actions in his or her name. I worked on a fishing boat one summer when I was in my early 20s and my mom had a financial power of attorney for me because I was not in contact with anyone for weeks at a time. Even in this age of cell phones and internet access not every corner of the world is covered with reliable access to our important accounts.
- Health Care Power of Attorney-A serious illness or accident can quickly take away the ability to make decisions about any end-of-life or care decisions. This document will allow someone else to make those decisions should your child be unable to do so.
- HIPAA Release-In Washington state, parents never have the right to view and amend the medical records of their adult, married or emancipated children, except in the event of death. The HIPAA release form gives parents or other proxy the right to talk to doctors and get information about the health of their adult child. Without it, parents may not even be able to get information about whether their children have been admitted to health care facilities or what happened to their children.
- Living Will-This document states the preferences for care in case an individual becomes permanently unconscious or contracts a terminal illness.
Nearly everyone should have the bare bones of an estate plan in place in case of the rare but not unknown occurrence of a serious medical emergency. Without these documents, parents cannot take care of emergencies should they arise and in the case of the medical documents they would potentially need to apply for guardianship, a time consuming and potentially costly process.