As a parent, you have been there for your child’s whole life, supporting them and protecting them. You’ve always chosen their doctors, made their appointments, and had the last word on their medical treatment…until suddenly, you don’t. Children may grow into adulthood gradually, but they become legal adults all at once, when they turn 18. Suddenly, parents are no longer automatically entitled to information about their children; as adults, those children have privacy rights protected by law. Parents are often taken aback to realize how completely things have shifted.
That realization, unfortunately, sometimes doesn’t happen until it’s too late. Around the time children turn 18, they are graduating from high school and planning for college, a new job, or military service. There are parties, trips, and plans for a bright future. Few parents are thinking about getting a power of attorney for college students or young adult children. That’s too bad, because having a medical power of attorney for a college student can provide great peace of mind in the event of an emergency.
What is a Power of Attorney?
A power of attorney is a legal document that gives one person (the agent) the legal authority to act on behalf of another (the principal). There are different types of powers of attorney, including financial and medical. For parents sending newly-minted adults off to college, a medical power of attorney is especially important. In addition, your child needs a “patient advocate designation” in Michigan for termination of life support. This is often incorporated into the medical durable power of attorney. A “durable” power of attorney means that the authority granted in the document continues even if the principal becomes legally incapacitated.
When might a college student need a durable medical power of attorney? There are a number of scenarios in which it might be essential: a sudden and serious illness, a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning, or an assault. An unfortunately common situation is a car accident in which a student is seriously injured and unconscious. At that point, important treatment decisions need to be made, and the young adult is not legally capable of making or communicating their wishes. Medical professionals may be constrained in communicating the details of the patient’s condition to parents.
Now: imagine yourself standing in a hospital hallway, knowing that your child is in medical distress, and you are unable to get the specifics or to make medical decisions for them. Even worse, if your child plans to go to college far from your home, imagine the panic of trying to get to their side while having no power to get information from their doctors or the ability to influence their care. For a parent, there is no more helpless feeling. Fortunately, having your college student execute a medical power of attorney can put you back “in the loop” and allow you to participate in their care. And if your child is out-of-state, he or she will probably need a durable power of attorney for that state as well.
Talking to Your College Student About Power of Attorney
If most parents aren’t thinking about a power of attorney as their child heads off to college, you can be sure that even fewer young adults are. Therefore, it is generally up to parents to get the ball rolling.
Bringing up the topic of a power of attorney can be a little challenging. Young adults are moving toward independence, and, let’s face it—may not always want their parents to have access to their medical information. That’s especially true when their medical records involve sensitive topics like mental health treatment or sexual health. Fortunately, it is possible to respect your student’s privacy and autonomy while still providing them with the security of a medical power of attorney.
Powers of attorney drafted by an estate planning lawyer can be customized to individual needs. For instance, your child can dictate what information they want you to have access to, and under what circumstances. They can also give you the ability to make medical decisions for them in the event that they are unable to make those decisions for themselves. If your child gives you authority under a medical power of attorney, it is not a license to be a “helicopter parent” or to diminish their independence.
Rather, it may be the first of many adult actions they will take: thinking ahead and planning for emergencies. Part of being an adult is recognizing that even adults need their parents’ help sometimes.
Do You Need a Lawyer to Get a Power of Attorney?
In order for your child to get powers of attorney that will meet their needs, it is important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney. Often, when people think of powers of attorney, they think of helping an older person who is incapacitated. But as attorney Danielle Mayoras points out, the provisions needed in a young adult’s power of attorney may be very different from those needed by a senior citizen. Your college student’s power of attorney must have certain provisions under the law that allows you to communicate with their college. Most durable power of attorneys don’t have these special provisions and it’s critical that these are in the document, or the document won’t give your student the proper coverage. This is another reason why it is critical to work with an attorney specializing in estate planning.
While “fill and print” powers of attorney are available online, Danielle does not recommend having a “DIY” power of attorney for college students. “If there is that emergency, and you don’t have the provisions in the document that you need, the document really doesn’t do you any good.” An estate planning attorney has the knowledge and experience to draft provisions that will address a wide range of contingencies without giving an agent more power than needed.
When your child is working with an attorney to plan for medical emergencies, the attorney can also help them plan for the management of their finances in the event of an emergency. A durable financial power of attorney can give parents the authority to make financial transactions for an incapacitated young adult, including paying their rent or student loans.
The vast majority of young adults who execute powers of attorney never need to rely on them. But both parents and adult children will have much greater peace of mind knowing that these important legal documents are in place.
The knowledgeable estate planning attorneys at Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras work with clients regarding power of attorney for college students. Schedule a consultation today by calling (248) 213-9514 in Michigan or (941) 222-2199 in Florida to learn how we can assist you. You can also use our simple online contact form.