Readying a child for college involves a lot of preparation. Trips to IKEA to furnish the dorm room, doctor visits for vaccinations and sports clearances, and a visit to your attorney to make sure your child has the necessary legal documents in place.
If that last one had you saying “what?,” read on. Your 18 year old baby does indeed need legal documents before heading out into the world. If you want to help her in an emergency, it’s far better to be sitting in the attorneys office for an hour and a few hundred dollars now, than to be sitting there for many hours and many more dollars later because a simple plan was not put into place.
What legal documents do 18 year-olds need?
1. HIPAA Release. This document will allow your child’s doctor’s to share information with you in the event she is hurt and needs to be hospitalized. “But she’s my baby!” is not, unfortunately, the legal authority doctors need to override privacy rules.
You will also need this if your child is still on your health insurance and you need to call the insurance company with questions about claims for your over 18 child. “But I pay the bills!” is, again, not one of the legal ways around privacy regulations.
2. Health Care Proxy. If your child is injured in an accident, or is having mental health issues that make them unable to understand or communicate their health care wishes, they need a health care proxy in place so that someone else has the legal authority to give their doctors direction regarding their care. There is no law that says parents automatically have this authority over their adult children.
Without a signed health care proxy in place, the only way for someone to have this authority is to seek a guardianship through the Courts. The last place you want to be if your child is having a medical crisis is in a lawyers office.
3. Durable Power of Attorney. This is the document your child will need to sign if he wants you to help out with things like his bank accounts, car insurance, title to a car, cell phone bill, and other situations that require his signature. Again, without this legal document in place, you would need to seek permission from the Court to be able to assist him. To the disappointment of many parents, colleges will not usually accept this document to release information about grades or performance. And yet again “But we pay the bills!” does not sway the registrar’s office.
4. Will. This is actually one of the least important documents for young adults (unless they have children of their own.) Unlike the circumstances above, there are laws in place regarding the distribution of property if someone passes away without a Will, and a hierarchy of people that can be appointed to administer the estate. Sometimes parents and their children don’t want to think about or talk about death, so they won’t do a will. But this shouldn’t hold anyone up from getting the first 3 crucial documents in place.
And a few questions I sometimes get on this topic:
1. We live in Massachusetts, but my child is going to school out of state. Can you still prepare these documents?
Yes. Your child’s legal residence will not likely change just because they are going to college, and therefore the documents should be done by an attorney in Massachusetts.
2. Can I tell you what my child wants done, and just mail her the documents to sign without you meeting her?
No. Your child is an adult, and therefore must be the one that I meet with to advice them about what they are signing. “But I am paying the bill!” does not override my ethical duty to my client (your child.) This should be comforting, because 30 years from now if your child wants to hire an attorney to help you, the attorney will have an ethical responsibility to you, even if your child is paying the bill.
3. What does this cost?
I don’t know what other attorneys charge, but for the office consultation with your child and the preparation of the a health care proxy, HIPAA release, and power of attorney I charge $275.00, which is about 1/3 of what you child will be paying for textbooks…for the first semester. The work can be completed in one day, and you all can sleep better at night.
To give you an idea of why I encourage people to plan ahead and get these documents in place, a guardianship and/or conservatorship (the steps needed if your child is incapacitated and these documents are not in place) cost around $3500-6000 and can take weeks or months to complete. Yes, I make more money on those cases, but that is not how I want to earn my money.