When most folks think of estate planning, advancing age, and deteriorating health come to mind. While it is crucial to have a robust estate plan in place at the onset of your golden years, it is a common misconception that young adults don’t also need to have certain essential documents on file. Young couples with children, for instance, want to ensure they have executed a will, a trust, and advance directives in order to protect loved ones and dependents from unforeseen tragedy. Similarly, married individuals want to ensure their planning reflects their commitment to their spouse. Therefore, even young adults heading off to college need to arrange certain estate planning documents to ensure their first foray into adulthood is free of risk.

The Six Estate Planning Essentials 

When an individual reaches the age of majority, they not only gain the right to vote, but they also gain control of their medical and financial affairs (among many other responsibilities). As a parent, this means you lose the automatic ability to intervene in such matters. Before you send your children off to college, then, you want to ensure they have the following documents in place such that you are able to assist in the case of a medical or financial emergency.

1. Medical Power of Attorney – Appointing a Healthcare Agent

A medical power of attorney allows an individual to appoint an agent to make healthcare-related decisions on their behalf should they suffer incapacitating injury and be unable to do so themselves. Should your child suffer a severe bicycle accident and fall unconscious, for instance, you would not be able to view their medical records and act on their behalf without a medical power of attorney. Likewise, should they fall ill to the point of incapacitation, this document empowers the person named to intervene.

2. HIPAA Authorization

HIPAA stands for “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act”—the name of a 1996 law that obliges insurance companies and health care providers to protect the privacy of their patient’s health records. A HIPAA signed by your child grants you, the guardian, permission to view their record in spite of this legislation, your child grants you access to the information needed to make informed decisions about their care.

Often, a HIPAA Authorization is signed in conjunction with a FERPA Authorization, read more in FERPA in section 5 below.

3. Living Will

Where a medical power of attorney empowers your child to name a proxy to make medical decisions should they suffer incapacitation, a living will provide the opportunity to articulate the type of care they wish to receive should they be pronounced terminally ill. Naturally, before having your child sign a living will it is important to thoughtfully address the wishes they plan to inscribe in writing.

4. Advance Directive for Healthcare

Many times, the issues addressed by these previously listed documents are all contained within a single document referred to as a Healthcare Directive. This approach is favored in Georgia among other states. Whether a single document or multiple documents, what is critical is that each person has designated a Healthcare Agent, given that agent access to medical information (HIPAA waiver) and guidance in the event of a terminal condition or state of permanent unconsciousness.

5. FERPA Authorization – access to educational information

FERPA refers to the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act—a law which much like HIPAA protects privacy but which refers to educational records instead of those related to healthcare. Without authorization from an adult student, colleges and universities will not share information with parents about tuition, housing, class enrollment, or grades. Some colleges consider health records maintained by the institution’s health center to be covered by FERPA as well as HIPAA regulations, so it is important to speak to an estate planning attorney when signing these documents to ensure unexpected situations do not arise.

6. Durable Power of Attorney

Finally, the last document every responsible parent should ensure their child has executed before heading to college is a durable power of attorney. This document allows your child to name an agent to act on their behalf. Here, the power granted to an agent is for legal and financial matters. When in place, a durable power of attorney gives the agent named the authority to manage financial and legal matters including paying bills, managing leases, and utilities, filing a personal injury suit, applying for public benefits, and taking care of financial accounts.

To learn more about each of these essential documents or to dive in and ensure your child has them in place before shipping out in September do not hesitate to call the Estate Planning Law Group of Georgia at 770-822-2723 or contact us through our website.

Contact Attorney James M. Miskell

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