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Why your college student needs estate planning documents

If you've got a child going off to college next year, or who recently started college, the last thing on their mind is likely estate planning. However, there are some specific documents commonly included in estate plans that most young people should have once they turn 18.

Estate planning isn't just about designating what happens to your assets after you die. A good estate plan also plans for a person's incapacitation. Who can make medical decisions for them if they can't speak for themselves? Who can handle their financial and legal obligations if they're unable to do so?

A serious accident or illness can happen at any age. However, if your 18-year-old is in a devastating car crash or falls ill and is left in a coma, as their parent, you have no legal right to make decisions about their medical care. You can't even get information from their medical providers about their condition. In the eyes of the law, they're adults, and their privacy is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

This can be avoided by having your child draw up a health care advance directive and designating you as their health care proxy. The directive lets the proxy and their medical team know their wishes for things like what kind of life-sustaining measures they want taken and under what conditions. As the health care proxy (known in Florida as "health care surrogate,") you have the right to talk to their doctors and to make decisions on behalf of your child.

This will also allow you to handle their medical bills. However, it's a good idea to also have another document in place that gives you power of attorney (POA) over their financial and legal matters. These may not be significant for someone in their late teens or early 20s. However, your child may have credit cards and student loans. They may rent an apartment. This POA allows you to deal with others on their behalf so that they don't end up in financial jeopardy while they're incapacitated.

If your adult child becomes incapacitated without documents like this in place, you might need to file an application to once again become their legal guardian. These guardianship applications can take time that you can't afford. That's why it's wise to talk with an attorney about putting these estate planning documents in place for your child.

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