Often when kids go off to college, we still think of them as just that: kids. While perhaps still fledgling in many ways as they launch into a year of independent living and academics, chances are they will turn 18 during their freshman year if they haven’t already before college begins. Reaching 18 may not change many things in the daily life of a college student, but the newfound “adult” status now means parental rights may not be automatic.
In many ways it doesn’t make sense for college kids to create a full estate plan—usually they don’t own any real estate, may not even have a car, and likely have more student loan debt than assets. One document that shouldn’t get overlooked, though, is the Health Care Proxy. While the structure and authorities for Health Care Proxies may vary from state to state, the general idea is that in the event of incapacity, someone else has the authority to make medical care decisions on the incapacitated person’s behalf.
Before reaching age 18, parents can automatically step in to make most health care decisions for their incapacitated child (with some exceptions), but once their child is a legal adult, parents may be required to obtain a guardianship in order to have that authority. Establishing a guardianship may involve one or more medical evaluations of the child, reports to the Court regarding diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan, possibly an attorney for the child, a Court hearing, and the time and expense involved in all of these steps. Having a Health Care Proxy in place usually circumvents the necessity of a guardianship, where the adult child can choose someone to make medical decisions in the event of the child’s incapacity.
Statistically most college students will never experience an incident of medical incapacity, but certain groups may have a higher risk, such as college athletes and cheerleaders. A Health Care Proxy is usually affordable, easy to have prepared, and offers peace of mind that parents can step in if there’s ever a medical crisis where the adult child can’t provide informed consent for medical treatment for him/herself. You should consult with an estate planning professional to ensure that any Health Care Proxy you have prepared complies with your applicable state laws.
By Beth L. Aarons, Esq.