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The Three Documents Your Child Needs Before Heading Off to College

By Stephanie K. Annunziata

Congratulations, parents! As a result of your love and support, your child has graduated high school and is eagerly awaiting their departure for college. While the relief is likely bittersweet, you are probably looking forward to your child taking on a more adult role in the management of their own affairs. Of course, you’ll still be there as a safety net. Many parents don’t expect their 18 year old to become fully independent without some help during the transition. However, in the eyes of medical facilities, financial institutions and other organizations, your child is a full-blown adult. Which means parents may find themselves excluded from assisting their child with the management of medical care or financial activities simply because their child is no longer a minor.

It may feel counterintuitive that your child – who may not even be responsible enough to have clean underwear – is now considered an adult in the eyes of the law. As a result, you may find yourself struggling to do things such as making doctors’ appointments, accessing medical results or paying their bills. More importantly, in the event of a catastrophic injury or emergency, you may be unable to make medical decisions on behalf of your child without the proper legal authority to do so.

College Checklist: Dorm Fridge & Powers of Attorney

So what’s the best way to avoid these types of complications? Don’t let your child leave home for college without the following estate planning documents:

  • Health Care Power of Attorney
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Release
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs.

In New Hampshire, a Health Care Power of Attorney is a straightforward document which would allow your child to appoint you as a “Health Care Agent” who may step in and make medical decisions on his or her behalf in the event they become unable to make these decisions on his or her own. Your child retains their autonomy to make medical decisions while they are able, but in the event of their incapacity, the power of attorney will allow their selected agent to authorize and direct their medical treatment. For example, if your child is injured and unconscious, you could rely on the power of attorney to authorize tests and treatments. Without that power of attorney, you may be required to file a Petition for Guardianship with the Probate Court in order to obtain authority to direct treatment for your child.

While New Hampshire’s recently enacted Surrogate Decision Maker Law makes it easier for families to manage under these circumstances, you would be unable to rely on this law if your child attends college out of state.

The HIPAA release will provide you with access to your child’s medical records – a helpful tool in the day-to-day management of your child’s medical care. This is an especially important consideration if your child has a chronic health condition which requires recurring appointments and procedures.

The other estate planning document college-aged individuals should consider executing is a Durable Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs (DPOA). With a DPOA, your child can authorize you or other trusted adults to act on his or her behalf for a wide range of activities, including transferring money between checking and savings accounts; interacting with financial aid officers; paying bills; and communicating with your child’s school.

The beauty of a DPOA is that it can be as broad or as limited as you choose. For example, if your child is planning to study abroad and will be unable to execute lease documents to secure housing for the following semester, a DPOA could authorize you to execute these documents on behalf of your child. The DPOA can also be used to authorize your child’s school to communicate with you on issues relative to financial aid and academic success.

A Health Care Power of Attorney, HIPAA Release and DPOA executed in New Hampshire should be honored and accepted across state lines, but it is always best to discuss your specific needs and plans with your attorney to make sure that the documents prepared will serve the needs your college student and your family.

The experienced attorneys at Shaheen & Gordon can answer your questions and help you and your college student prepare for and navigate this new phase of your lives. Contact us today.