Why is a Power of Attorney a Dorm Room Essential?

So your son or daughter is heading out of the nest this fall. You’ve worked hard for years (and so has your kid!) to get those acceptance letters, pick just the right school, and start the long-anticipated process of leaving home for the first time. This will be a special summer. Congratulations to everyone!

But, while you’re picking out those new sheets and packing up that favorite stuffie, or going through the closet to see what you’ll need to shop for and making that much-needed new computer purchase, don’t forget one very important thing you and your kid will both need when they head out: a power of attorney that will let you take care of them if they get sick.

What most parents don’t know – because nobody tells them – is that, in most states, once your boy or girl turns 18, they’re a full-fledged adult in the eyes of the law, and you lose your right to make healthcare decisions for them. You can imagine what that could mean in an emergency.

So, instead of waiting until there’s a crisis and you can’t tell a doctor how to treat your ill adult child, go ahead and get a power of attorney drawn up now, discuss it with your son or daughter, and everyone can relax with the peace of mind that a good legal document can bring to your family.

You might want to give your child the graduation gift of a simple estate plan as well. Your college kid might feel he or she doesn’t have enough property to justify a will, and that’s a good point, but as a long-time family law attorney, I advise my clients to make sure that they have 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. The same goes for 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, you’ll want to be able to communicate with medical professionals and deal effectively with your child’s bank and credit card companies.

Although an estate plan might seem like a less-than-sunny graduation gift, it’s a good lesson in making good choices. And, reflecting back on some of your decision-making in college, well, there may be some wisdom to reminding your college-bound kid of just how amazing and powerful life is.

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