Passing the Power {Powers of Attorney for Adult Children}

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Does your college student have a power of attorney?

Let me guess. You’re probably thinking, “Lady, why does my 18-year-old need a legal document? And what is a power of attorney, anyway?”

That’s okay. You aren’t alone.

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When your child leaves home and heads off for college, you probably ran through an extensive packing list and made sure he or she had everything they would need to successfully navigate a year away from home. But did you stop to think about what legal, financial, and medical issues might arise? These aren’t fun things to think about, but they’re incredibly necessary.

As an estate planning attorney, educating families about these topics is incredibly important to me.

A durable general power of attorney (DGPOA) is a legal document that allows the Principal (the person creating the document) to authorize another person, called the Agent, to conduct financial transactions on the Principal’s behalf. This often makes practical, convenient sense, especially if an adult child is away at college far from home. A DGPOA can allow you to pay bills on your child’s behalf, deposit or withdraw funds from your child’s bank account, renew your child’s license plate tags, or speak with a college bursar’s office about your child’s account, among countless other things. In short, pretty much any financial issue that might arise can be handled using a well-written DGPOA.

Similarly, a health care power of attorney (HCPOA) is a legal document that allows the Principal to authorize an Agent to make medical decisions on the Principal’s behalf, in the event that the Principal is unable to act. A good HCPOA should also contain a HIPAA release, allowing the Agent to have access to the Principal’s medical records. Remember, once your child turns 18, you are no longer automatically entitled to receive information about your child’s medical condition or to participate in their medical decision-making. In the event of an emergency, this could be incredibly stressful for any parent.

I recently prepared these important legal documents for the adult child of a friend, before the child left town for college. A month or so into the semester, my friend learned that her child had been hospitalized. Thanks to the HCPOA that her child had signed before leaving for school, my friend was able to immediately be put into the loop with the hospital and receive updates about her child’s condition. She was never told that she did not have the legal authority to receive critical information or make decisions on behalf of her child. However, imagine how differently this story could have ended if her child had not executed those legal directives before leaving for school.

If you have an adult child, regardless of whether they are away at college or still living at home, these basic legal documents can be incredibly important. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that life can be incredibly unpredictable. As parents, it’s imperative that we prepare for the worst (while always hoping for the best) and make sure that we are equipped to help our children however necessary – even when those children are legally adults.

If you or your child is interested in learning more about these important legal documents, I would encourage you to reach out to an estate planning attorney for assistance.

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