Imagine this scenario.
You are awakened by a phone call in the middle of the night. It is someone alerting you that your son or daughter, who is away at college, has been in an accident. They are in the hospital in critical condition. Of course, you drop everything and rush there. When you arrive, your child is on life-support and in need of a lifesaving operation and you are stunned when you are told you need to get authorization from the court to give the doctors permission to proceed!
A nightmare? Yes, but it could be very real if your child did not sign a power of attorney (POA) and/or a medical surrogate form before he or she left for collage.
If you are about to, or have recently sent your child off to college, it is very important that you have them sign these two forms.
Once your child is 18 or over, you may think you can still make important medical decisions for them. However, the fact of the matter is that once your kid turns 18, even though you are obviously still his or her parent, you have no more legal right to his or her medical information or to make critical medical decisions, than you would for someone you just bumped into on the street. That is, unless you have had them sign a POA.
Without a POA in place, or at the very least having you officially listed as their medical proxy, if they should fall victim to a medical emergency out of state, or out of the country, critical medical decisions may not be yours to make Can you imagine your child lying in a hospital bed, and a court needing to appoint a guardian, rather than yourself, to make critical decisions about his or her care?
Believe it or not, in most states, parents do not have the authority to make healthcare decisions—or financial decisions for that matter—on behalf of their kids once their children turns 18. If they are over 18, and away at school, that still applies—even if you are paying their tuition, still carrying them on your health insurance plans and/or claiming them as dependents on your income taxes.
By signing the POA, young adults are granting their parents the legal right to act on their behalf should they become incapacitated in any way, while they are away at school. Again, in lieu of the POA, you should at the very least have a Designation of Health Care Surrogate and “living will” form filled out and signed.
If you are a New York or New Jersey resident, and your kids are going away to college, make sure you fill out the forms for your home state, the state the school is in, and the school’s own papers if they have them. This way you are sure to be 100% covered in the event of a medical emergency.
Think of your POA as a part of estate planning
At its most basic level, estate planning is all about being prepared for possible worst case scenarios that can befall your family at some point in the future. Having your kids sign a POA before going to college, is just another way to be best prepared for a “what if” occurrence.
As individuals who have only just assumed the mantle of adulthood, it may be difficult to get your college-bound kids to sign a POA. After all, they often see going off to college as a rite of passage and a way to break away from parental control and influence. Also, if they have any knowledge of a POA, they may associate it with “giving total control” over their affairs to someone else. This is often the challenge in getting elderly folk to sign a POA, as they fear abuse of their finances. That may not be the case with college kids. However, they could fear that the POA will give you access to their grades and other things that normally are private matters between the student and the university.
Still, it is best that you as the parent, be the first one to broach the subject of a POA. Then, you can sit down with your lawyers, accountants and/or other financial advisors, who can then help you draft the necessary papers. As a third party, these individuals can sit down with your entire family and help explain the critical need for the documents—and allay any fears your young adult children may have.
Also, by working with a professional, you can set up the POA exactly how you and your children want it. This way you can specify what it gives you access to, and what it does not, so that the whole family will be comfortable with this very important decision.
Steven Blumenthal, CPA is the Principal of MBAF CPA’s LLC, located on 440 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016. He can be reached by telephone at (212) 931-9254 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Understanding the value of a POA and/or other estate planning issues for the parents of college students can be complex. If you would like to benefit from MBAF CPA’s LLC’s expertise in these areas, or if you have further questions on this advisory, do not hesitate to contact their tax & accounting specialists at (212) 576-1400.