Protecting Your College Student with Estate Planning

Despite the fact that once they’re officially an adult and you’re no longer legally responsible for them, most college students need guidance in navigating some of the legal aspects of adulthood. The good news is you can help your child with their Estate Plan, so they’re set up for the unexpected when it comes to anything from personal finances to stressful medical decisions. In fact, some colleges are requiring certain legal documents as a condition to enrollment. The primary reason for this requirement is that most college students are at the age where they are considered adults under state law and the rights of a parent to make decisions for an adult child can be limited. For instance, parents may no longer have the legal right to access a child’s education, financial, and health records.

While the perception of Estate Planning is often that it’s a near end-of-life task, the earlier you start, the better. Now is the time to start an Estate Plan for your college student. Remember, you can easily modify an Estate Plan at any time (and you should, too, at every major life event, like starting college, getting married or divorced, a new birth or death). Updating things like Beneficiary Designations and Advance Directives as age and status change can be simple. To address this issue, first and foremost, a parent should make their college student aware of this independence under the law. Next, evaluate what documents might be needed. Here is an overview of documents that our office would suggest you consider:

  • Healthcare Proxy
    • This document allows an individual to designate another person to be their agent in the event they’re no longer able to make decisions regarding their own healthcare.
  • Durable Power of Attorney
    • Assures you’ll be able to step in and make even non-healthcare-related decisions on your child’s behalf. The most important aspect of this document is it grants you the important ability to make financial decisions and transactions, access accounts and sign documents for your child should you need to. The “Durable” part is key here, because it stays in place and means you can make decisions even after incapacitation.

These documents allow the young adult to appoint their parent or another trusted individual to act as their agent for financial and health care issues that may arise upon their incapacity or while they may travel abroad. In addition, it would be helpful for a college student or their parent to have a HIPAA authorization form on file if that student wishes to have their medical/healthcare information released to their parent as this will allow a health care provider to do so. Also, helpful is an Advance Directive which helps an individual express their wishes for care during incapacity or end of life.

  • HIPAA Authorization 
    • Having a signed HIPAA Authorization form means doctors and other medical professionals will be able to legally share potentially-critical information with you about your child’s health status. This can be incredibly important should the time ever come where important decisions need to be quickly made.
  • Advance Directive
    • Typically includes a “living will,” which directs how and when you want life support withdrawn if you have a terminal illness with no reasonable chance of recovery.

Setting up a Will for your adult child might seem hard, but it’s actually a necessity. They are legal adults and will likely start to acquire assets even while in college. Additionally, most children are beneficiaries of your estate, so you can help secure your assets by planning your adult children’s Will.

  • Last Will & Testament
    • The primary function of a last will and testament is to dispose of your property when you pass away. Because most college students will have minimal assets, designating beneficiaries on their bank accounts may be sufficient since assets that have designated beneficiaries pass by operation of law and are not subject to wills and probate. However, the college-aged young adult may have tangible personal property (such as jewelry, collection items, etc.) they want to leave to specific people, like parents, siblings, friends, cousins, etc. A last will and testament would be very useful in this situation.
    • Since pets are considered personal property, a college student with a pet may also want to designate whom they want to leave their dog, cat, pet fish, etc. to.
    • The college-aged young adult may also want a last will completed now, so they are set for when they graduate college.
    • Another aspect to consider is digital assets. Identity theft and fraud are common after someone’s passing. A person’s digital presence makes them susceptible. Digital assets include everything from your movies or books you bought that are stored on a Kindle or on your iTunes account, to log-in credentials for dating profiles, apps such as Venmo, PayPal, TikTok, Instagram and even cryptocurrency.
      • Here’s a list of other digital assets:
        • Digital photographs and videos
        • Domain names
        • Email accounts, social media accounts, online shopping accounts and those that may have multiple uses, like Amazon, for example.
        • Even gaming accounts should be included
        • Inactive accounts should be included

Estate planning is about avoiding a mess and a little planning goes a long way – even for young adults. Surprenant & Beneski’s estate planning attorneys are here to help and can advise parents or college students through the process.