Estate planning is not the first thought most parents have when their child is accepted to college. But it should be addressed before your child goes off to school. Once your child turns 18, they are no longer a minor. Legally, they are an adult. Because the child is no longer a minor, parents do not have the automatic legal authority to simply take over their child’s financial affairs – or even get information about health care issues.
Several years ago, a friend of mine called me, furious and upset. Her son, who had just turned 18 years old, had gone off for his freshman year at an out-of-state college. That morning she had received a text message from him, saying he felt awful, and was going to the infirmary on campus. He said he would be in touch to let her know what was going on.
A couple of hours passed, and she heard nothing. She tried calling him, but he did not answer his cell phone. Now worried, she called the school infirmary to see what was going on. She was stunned when the nurse would not confirm that her son was even in the infirmary. The nurse said that the law prohibited her from talking about her son’s medical condition, without written permission from her son. My friend tried the, “I pay the tuition” argument. It didn’t sway the nurse at all.
Finally, her son called and said he was fine – he had never actually gone to the infirmary because he felt better by the time he got there. So, he decided to go out to breakfast instead. Sorry for not calling her back, he just forgot. When he came home for Thanksgiving, she brought him into the office and he signed a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney.
So, if you have a child who is turning 18, have them sign heath care documents and a financial Power of Attorney.