By Jennifer Balmos
With college just around the corner, many students are focused on roommate assignments, picking out essentials for their dorm room or hunting for their first apartment. Arguably, in the excitement of preparation, many families overlook one of the most critical pieces of the plan – which is the answer to the question: what if something happens to my child while he or she is away at school?
Even though a college or graduate student will forever be someone’s child, in the eyes of the law in Texas, he or she is now an adult. And adulthood means it’s time to plan ahead to protect both student and family. A common misconception about estate planning is that it only serves to protect property. Instead, comprehensive planning goes beyond mere asset protection and also protects people.
People are best protected when they can choose who will make decisions for them if they are unable to do so themselves. People are also protected when they have a back-up plan for legal or financial decisions in the event of an emergency. Finally, after making these decisions, people are protected when they talk to their loved ones about their wishes.
If a college student experiences a health emergency and does not have a plan in place, a number of things will happen. First, the person giving consent for non-emergent treatment will be determined by Texas statute. The only way for the student to choose his or her decisionmaker is to execute a valid Medical Power of Attorney. Texas, unfortunately, is one of five states that does not recognize a simple form such as Five Wishes. Instead, Medical Powers of Attorney in this state must comply with a number of statutory requirements.
Second, without a plan in place, the student’s health information will remain confidential – even to his or her parents. This translates into parents calling a hospital, and not being able to receive information over the phone about their child’s status. That’s scary to think about, but it’s also completely avoidable.
Additionally, in most circumstances, parents can no longer swoop in and take over their student’s legal or financial decisions. Because the student is an adult, his financial information is protected, even against a parent who seeks to help. Think about a student studying abroad, who needs to sign a lease, and pay first and last month’s rent for next semester’s apartment. With a Durable Power of Attorney, his agent can assist with both.
It is important to note that documents such as Powers of Attorneys and Directives to Physicians are governed by state law, and vary from state to state. Some states will recognize properly-drafted documents from other jurisdictions, but such recognition is not guaranteed.
Comprehensive planning may start sooner than you think. Consider using these last few weeks of summer to help your college-aged student put a plan in place.
More information about Jennifer’s practice may be found at www.balmoslaw.com. This content is intended to be educational in nature only, and does not constitute legal advice for a specific situation.