boy posing with his mom as they move him into college - power of attorney for college student concept

If you are a parent, you know that in some ways, your child will always be your “baby.” But from a legal standpoint, your child is an adult at midnight on their eighteenth birthday. That creates a change in your relationship that neither of you may be ready for, especially if your child is heading off to college. Now that your child is a legal adult, you no longer have the right to do many of the things you’ve done for them all their lives—like make medical decisions and manage their money. In order to do those things now, you will need a power of attorney for your college student.

Powers of attorney are essential components of any estate plan—and it’s never too soon to create them.

What is a Power of Attorney?

A power of attorney is a legal document executed by an adult (the principal) to give another adult (the agent or attorney-in-fact) the authority to make certain decisions for them. There are different types of powers of attorney. A financial power of attorney allows the agent to conduct financial transactions for the principal. A medical power of attorney (called a patient advocate designation, or PAD in Michigan) allows the agent (patient advocate) to make medical decisions if the patient cannot make or communicate their own decisions.

A power of attorney can be very narrow; for example, if you were buying a home and couldn’t be present at the closing, you could authorize someone to sign documents on your behalf for that single transaction. However, when obtaining a power of attorney for your college student, you and they will probably want the power to be fairly broad, so that you can step in and manage any matters in the event your child becomes legally incapacitated.

You will also want the power of attorney for your college student to be “durable,” meaning that it is not terminated by their incapacity (which would defeat the purpose of your having it). Your child will no doubt prefer that the power of attorney is a “springing” one, which means that you would not have authority to make decisions for them unless and until they are incapacitated.

Why is a Power of Attorney for My College Student so Important?

Imagine that you’ve dropped your child off at college, both of you looking forward to a bright future. Then disaster strikes: a car accident, or a sudden severe illness like meningitis, or alcohol poisoning. You rush to your child’s side, desperate for information, but the doctors tell you they can’t speak to you.

Without a durable medical power of attorney for your college student, you may be unable to:

  • Get information from your child’s doctors and medical providers
  • View or obtain their medical records
  • Make medical decisions on your child’s behalf without getting permission from a court first

When your child has suffered a medical emergency, you just want to be their parent and focus on taking care of them. Unless they have executed a medical power of attorney giving you decision-making power, however, you may have to wade through lots of red tape instead.

In addition to having a medical power of attorney, you also need a durable financial power of attorney for your college student. That will allow you to:

  • Manage your child’s financial accounts
  • Pay their rent or potentially terminate their lease if necessary
  • Pay credit card bills, utilities, and any other financial obligations
  • Make insurance claims and pay your child’s medical bills
  • Apply for government benefits on your child’s behalf if appropriate
  • File tax returns for your child.

If you do not have a durable power of attorney for your college student, the only way to gain access to their finances and the power to manage financial matters on their behalf is by seeking guardianship and conservatorship through the probate court. This process can be time-consuming, costly, and stressful at a time when your attention really needs to be focused on your child. This is especially true if your child is attending college in a state other than your home state.

How to Get Power of Attorney for a College Student

Your newly-minted adult child must execute the powers of attorney that will grant you authority to act on their behalf. That means that you will have to have a conversation with them about it; this is an adult decision that they need to make.

You may find it easier to have this conversation if you, yourself, have executed powers of attorney. Then you can say something like, “Every adult needs to have a plan in place for who will take care of their important decisions if they are not in a position to manage their own business. I have created powers of attorney giving X the authority to make my medical and financial decisions if I can’t. Would you be willing to create powers of attorney so that I can help you if needed?”

Your adult child may not even be aware that you can no longer take care of their doctor appointments and bills as you always have. Most college kids are willing to give their parents power of attorney in case of emergency, but they may have privacy concerns.

For instance, your child may worry that if they give you authority under a medical power of attorney, you may be able to get information about sensitive information such as their decision to see a therapist or seek a birth control prescription. An estate planning attorney can assure your child that they can choose to keep some information private. A power of attorney can be structured to give you as their agent the power you need to have, without giving you access to information you do not need to have in order to help them.

To learn more about power of attorney for college students (or for yourself), contact Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Estate planning