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December 3, 2021


Estate Planning: The Documents Your Children Should Sign Before Heading To College

Estate planning discussion.Sending your son or daughter off to college is an exciting milestone for both you and your child. There is so much to prepare during this time, from housing arrangements to class schedules to moving day. If estate planning for your child is not on the to do list, it should be. With certain estate planning documents in place, you can prepare for the unexpected. In this article, we will discuss the documents your children should sign before heading to college.

Why Does My Child Need Estate Planning Documents?

Often people think estate planning is only for wealthy individuals or married couples with kids. This is simply not the case. Although you may not want to think about the scenario, especially during such a momentous time, tragedies happen. Who would get your child’s assets and belongings if they died? Before your child goes off to college, give them the opportunity to document their wishes with an estate plan. By doing this, hopefully, it will bring peace of mind to the entire family.

Additionally, part of a comprehensive estate plan is having documents in place in the event of incapacity. By the time your child heads off to college, it is likely he or she is at least 18 years old and a legal adult. This means that as a parent, you can no longer make decisions on behalf of your child. If a medical emergency happens, this can be problematic. Without proper documentation in place, you will have to go to court and ask that a judge appoint you as the guardian of your son or daughter. The process can be lengthy and emotionally taxing on everyone involved.

For all these reasons, it is a good idea to have your child sign some estate planning documents before leaving for college.

Durable Power of Attorney

As your child becomes an adult, remind him or her that with newfound independence comes newfound responsibility. This includes choosing someone to manage their affairs if they cannot due to some illness, accident, or injury.

With a durable power of attorney, your child (the principal) can appoint someone they trust (the agent) to make financial and legal decisions in the event they are unable to do so. The document can either go into effect immediately upon signing or only if a doctor deems your child lacks capacity to decide for themselves. A power of attorney can be incredibly useful, particularly if your child attends college in another state or country. Assuming you are appointed as the agent, you can sign legal documents, pay bills, file taxes, and do just about anything your child would do if they were present.

If this sort of authority makes your son or daughter uncomfortable, they can limit what the agent has the authority to do by specifying the powers in the document. They can also choose how long the power of attorney will last.

Your child may also consider including provisions regarding the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA). This federal law allows your child to restrict access to his or her own educational records.

Advance Health Care Directive

Accidents happen, but your child can be prepared with an advance health care directive. This document goes by other names, such as health care proxy and medical power of attorney, but they all have the same purpose and effect.

An advance health care directive is a legal document where your child appoints an agent to make medical decisions for them if they cannot themselves. This document goes into effect only once a doctor certifies that the person is incapacitated. At that point, the agent can make health care decisions on their behalf. With an advance health care directive, your child can provide certain instructions regarding medical care and limit the agent’s authority over certain health care matters.

Your child may also want to include a release of medical records under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). This gives the agent access to medical information that may be needed during an emergency.

Living Will

A living will is a written declaration of your desires specifically for end-of-life treatment. For example, if your child is terminally ill or comatose and doctors do not expect recovery, this document will cover decisions such as:

  • Pain management;
  • Mechanical ventilation;
  • Use of artificial hydration or nutrition (e.g. tube feeding); and
  • Organ and tissue donation.

A living will is more specific than a health care proxy, which is why your child may want to consider signing both.

Last Will and Testament

Having a will in place gives your child the opportunity to decide who gets their assets if they pass away. Now your child may claim they have nothing to their name, but digital assets count. Just about anything stored online is a digital asset, including the following:

  • Social media accounts,
  • Investment accounts,
  • Cryptocurrencies,
  • Online pictures and videos,
  • Online gaming avatars,
  • Online betting accounts,
  • Blog content, and
  • Domain names for websites.

The law governing digital assets continues to evolve, but at this point most companies will not grant access to digital assets without proper authorization and instructions. The unfortunate effect of this is that some digital assets could be lost forever.

Contact an Estate Planning Legal Matters Lawyer Today

Your child may push back when you bring up the topic of estate planning documents, but it is such an important conversation to have. At the Law Office of Andrew M. Lamkin, P.C., we are here to answer your questions and draft the documents your children should sign before heading to college.

Call 516-605-0625 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.