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Client Alert: Protecting the Health and Financial Decision-Making of Your College-Age Child

Whether in-person or by remote learning, the start of the college school year marks an important rite of passage for many parents, who rightly fret over many issues surrounding this significant transition. Will my child adapt to a new environment? Will my child make friends? Will my child enjoy and succeed in his or her coursework? Will my child have enough money at school? These are just some of the issues that keep parents up late at night.

Perhaps the most pressing question college students’ parents mull is the following: will my child be safe? These are not idle or theoretical considerations, particularly in this COVID-19 era. Indeed, prudent college planning should prompt parents to strategize, before their kids leave for school, on how to address a health emergency that incapacitates their college-student, especially when those children are far away.

When such emergencies arise – an incapacitating illness, a serious accident, or condition requiring hospitalization – a health care proxy and a durable power of attorney furnish peace of mind to parents who prudently plan for such events.

A health care proxy identifies the person who can legally make medical decisions on behalf of the incapacitated child. The health care proxy gives the named agent the power to make medical decisions, sign consents and/or releases with hospitals and/or doctors and should conform to the Federal Laws known as “HIPAA”, with regard to the release of medical information. It should also include a ‘living will’ statement for end-of-life decisions. Each parent should be named, in succession, for this role.

A durable power of attorney establishes who can execute documents and make financial decisions on behalf of your child. It is primarily intended to give the named agent the power to deal with assets and finances. This document typically gives the agent broad powers to dispose of, sell, convey and encumber real and personal property. Both parents should be named to serve jointly in this capacity, each with the authority to act individually.

Conducting such prudent planning before college students leave the nest is especially critical because college students, who are typically 18 years of age or older, are deemed adults as a matter of law. Thus, parents do not have automatic access to the medical or financial information of their adult-age children – even if the child is on your health plan. In other words, if your college-age student is incapacitated in the hospital, you do not have access to your son’s or daughter’s medical or financial information simply by virtue of your status as a parent.

Because your college-age children are legally deemed adults, they can lawfully execute a health care proxy and durable power of attorney. The most prudent time to complete those documents is before those children leave for college. This prudence allows parents to collaborate with their college-age children, in advance of a calamity, to determine their wishes, and who may legally act on behalf of the children if they become incapacitated.

If your college student has already gone off to school without these important documents, consider addressing them when they are home on their next break. Completing the health care proxy and the durable power of attorney for your college-age children can be done separately, or they can be completed as part of your own overall estate plan.

Catherine Rossetti, Esq., is a member of RIW’s Trusts and Estates Group and can be reached at cbr@riw.com, 617.742.4200


This summary is presented for informational and educational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice, nor create an attorney-client relationship. For a full understanding of the issues, please contact counsel of your choice.

POSTED IN: Articles & Quotes, COVID-19, News, Trusts & Estates

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