When I was a judicial clerk, my judge used to say, “Monica, do you know why babies become teenagers? Because, otherwise, parents would never ever want their babies to leave the nest.” (Yes, brilliant woman). As a parent of a small child, I see her point. I want my child with me all the time. As a daughter, what I’ve been learning is that I kind of always need my parents, but maybe not always in my nest. Think about it, parents: when your college kid gets the flu right before finals, you will be 100% ready to walk your child through your super-special 24 hour kick-that-cold remedy. On the trail from adolescence to adulthood, the moments when kids need their parents may become fewer and farther between, but when a moment arises, the parent’s role may be as critical as soothing a baby through a cold.
Most states consider babies to be adults once they reach the age of 18. What does this mean for parents as a child heads off to college? Basically, unless a parent has the proper legal documents, the parent no longer has the right to access their adult child’s financial information, medical records, or even basic information about their child’s medical conditions. You might want to give your child the graduation gift of a simple estate plan.
Your college kid might feel he or she doesn’t have enough property to justify a will. That may be a good point. Kids do that. Still, make sure your child has a health care power of attorney, a HIPAA authorization and a durable financial power of attorney. These documents are critical. A health care power of attorney and HIPAA authorization are how your adult child gives you the ability to access private medical information and make medical decisions if he or she is unable to do so. It’s the same deal with the financial power of attorney which allows you to access your child’s financial records and take care of financial matters while he or she is away at college.If there is an emergency and your child becomes incapacitated, the last things you need is to be prevented from communicating with medical professionals about your child’s health and/or finding yourself unable to report a lost debit or credit card to your child’s bank.
I admit, an estate plan might seem like a dark graduation gift, but I like to think there is a lesson in responsibility in it. And, reflecting back on some of my decision-making in college, well, there may be some wisdom to reminding your college-bound kid of just how delicate and wonderful life is.