Posted by: Katie May

Imagine the emotions of a child about to leave for the first year of college: excitement, anticipation of the future and the possibilities that lie ahead. In anticipation, parent and child make multiple trips to Target and Bed Bath & Beyond, crossing off the items for a comfortable dorm room. On the other hand, you, as the parent, feel a tremendous amount of stress as you prepare for you child to be on his or her own. You are concerned for the child’s well-being while the child is focused on his or her budding social life. In the majority of college send-offs, neither thinks about the necessity of certain estate planning documents before the car is packed.

Estate planning can be an emotional experience for any individual, especially to a young adult about to embark on a bright future. At a time when college students are about to begin making most life decisions on their own, both parents and college students should think about what will happen if students are unable to make decisions for themselves. Admittedly, it is neither a pleasant nor comfortable thought; however, if not addressed, an already devastating situation can easily become a legal nightmare. Who will make healthcare decisions? How would the child want decisions to be made? Who can make financial decisions? These questions can be easily answered in the preparation of a simple estate plan.

What documents does a college student need?

  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care provides the opportunity to name an agent who will make decisions if the student is unable to do so. If the student has a medical emergency or a mental health crisis, this document allows the parent to step in and provide the physician or other professional with direction.
By executing a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, the college student saves family members the time, expense and emotional turmoil of a Guardianship proceeding, which requires a Court to appoint a Guardian as the decision maker.
  • Living Will: A Living Will applies only if the student has an incurable and irreversible injury, disease or illness which is judged to be a terminal condition by the treating physician. It directs doctors and health care providers to use no artificial, life-preserving procedures to prolong the dying process. This document applies only under a very narrow set of circumstances, unlike a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, which has much broader applicability. In addition, under Illinois law, your doctor should seek the input of an agent acting under a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care before acting under this Living Will Declaration. The Living Will, therefore, is subordinate to a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care in situations where both documents are present and applicable.
  • HIPPA Authorization: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted, in part, to protect the privacy of an individual’s medical and health care information from unauthorized disclosure. Executing a HIPPA Authorization assures that the individuals you name, the “HIPAA agents,” have access to all medical information about you, and that doctors and other medical personnel will cooperate with the HIPAA agents and share all relevant medical information. Without such an authorization, it is difficult, even for a parent, to get information about the college student’s medical and health care situation.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Property: A Durable Power of Attorney for Property allows the student to appoint the person who will handle his or her financial matters, and is a written authorization for a person to perform acts for another in the nature of financial or property transactions. A Durable Power of Attorney for Property can be very beneficial in the event of incapacity as it gives the agent the power to act for the principal in any way the principal could act for him or herself. For example, the agent can be given the power to: help out with things like bank accounts, car insurance, title to a car, cell phone bill, and other matters that requiring a signature. This document, like the Power of Attorney for Health Care, saves family from having to pursue a Guardianship in order to manage finances.
  • Will: While an important document, the Will is the least important for a college student with no children.  Illinois has laws in place directing the distribution of assets in the case no Will is executed. However, executing a Will allows the student to make decisions regarding the distribution of asssets at death, and to communicate those decisions.

While college preparation “To-Do Lists” include extensive lists of items a student needs on move-in day, the preparation often fails to include execution of an estate plan. As discussed above, having a proper estate plan is one very important step on the road to independence that college students, and their parents, should ensure is checked off the list well before the car is packed.

At Huck Bouma we have a special program for our clients’ college-age children. Please call for more information: (630)682-0700. So, if you have children in college, or children getting ready to enroll next year, we invite them to call for an appointment to set up their estate plans. Perhaps when your students are home for the holidays, they can take a few minutes to complete this very important task.