When children get ready to leave for college, their parents are often involved in helping them prepare for the transition in almost every way imaginable. It is curious then that this preparation rarely includes ensuring that the child has executed the most basic estate planning documents; documents that may prove critically important while the child is away and on his or her own.
Health Care Proxy
For a child going away to college, a health care proxy in favor of mom and dad should be a prerequisite. It is not uncommon for a college student away from home for four (or even more) years to face medical issues during that time. An appropriately drafted health care proxy ensures that, if the need arises, the child's privacy rights under HIPAA (which are rights to which the child has only recently become entitled to as an adult), will not stand in the way of his or her parents accessing medical information and making appropriate health care decisions for the child. If a child attends an out of state college, it might even be advisable to have a health care proxy drawn in the child’s home state, as well as in the state in which the child attends school, so as to ensure the health care proxy’s ready enforceability. In all events, the child should provide a copy of his or her health care proxy to the campus health center to ensure that the parents have an easier time navigating the system if the need arises.
Power of Attorney
As with the health care proxy, a child headed off to college might also want to consider executing a power of attorney in favor of his or her parents. In general, a power of attorney allows an individual (referred to as the "principal") to designate a representative (referred to as the "attorney-in-fact") to handle his or her financial affairs. In the case of a child headed off to college, the appointment of a parent as an attorney-in-fact can be extremely useful if the parent, for example, needs to execute banking transactions on behalf of the child while the child is away at school. A child who is less than eager to relinquish control over his or her financial affairs may be comforted in knowing that the grant of such power can be temporary (i.e., only while the child is away) and may be revoked at any time.
Last Will and Testament
In addition, for those children whose parents have, through successful estate planning of their own, already passed significant assets to the child, a last will and testament is also important. A will permits the child to dispose of his or her assets the child sees fit in the unlikely event of death. In particular, it is important to avoid a situation where the child dies without a will because in such a situation the child’s assets would revert to the parents under the laws of intestacy. A reversion to the parents would, of course, have the effect of undoing their estate planning; instead, it might have been better for such assets to pass laterally to siblings.