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You’ve packed up the mini-fridge and twin XL sheets, but there may be something even more important you’re forgetting as you prepare your teen for college—establishing his or her Power of Attorney (POA).

While many people tend to focus on POAs for the elderly, or for those who have a lot of assets, selecting trusted people in your life to make important medical and financial decisions on your behalf is critical for everyone 18 and over. With most college students becoming legal adults within their first year, discussing a POA should be part of their preparations as they enter this next chapter of their lives.

How a POA can help students
More than 40% of students attend colleges more than 100 miles from home. Not only are they moving away, but their financial situation tends to drastically change as they begin university life. They may open a bank account or credit card, start jobs, take out loans and receive financial aid. While parents may still be very much involved in discussing their child’s finances, after 18, they no longer have access.

Students deserve the chance to establish their independence, but issues tend to arise if no one else has access in an emergency. Without a POA, if a student is incapacitated, someone will need to make an application with the local Probate Court to be their Guardian. The Guardianship process is time-consuming and expensive. But a Financial POA is legally able to pay bills. While it can be hard to think about the chance of a student becoming incapacitated, having a POA allows you as a parent to easily assist your child without the need for Probate intervention.

The same goes for Healthcare POA. Generally, doctors will default to consulting parents in emergency scenarios, but if the situation persists, such as in the event of a coma or if extensive rehab is needed, the hospital or physician may very well require some legal authority. Without a POA, the case would become a matter of Guardianship in the county or state in which the student resides, rather than where the college and hospital are located. Things can become even more complex if parents do not stand on equal footing, such as in the case of a divorce or problematic marriage, making a traumatic situation even worse. But having a POA allows making decisions ranging from authorizing the administration of pain-relieving drugs to admitting to a rehabilitation facility, again without Probate Court.

Tips for parents
It may not feel ideal to discuss how parents can maintain decision-making power at a time when students are seeking a chance to go out on their own but having the conversation with your child during their 17th year is the perfect time from a legal perspective. It may be helpful for parents to bring up the subject as just another responsible step in preparing for adulthood, like opening that first credit card. It may help to stress that decisions are only made in situations where a student cannot communicate with his or her doctor. If the student shows rational comprehension, the doctor should not even ask the parents for their opinions. In fact, the student will remain within their right to ask to speak to medical staff alone. But it’s critical for college students to understand that if there’s a serious car accident, a party gone wrong or other event that results in a period of unconsciousness, it’s to their benefit to have an appointed POA to act until the student recovers, at which point the POA’s authority ends.

Even though any adult can be a POA, the natural choice would be a parent because a student’s peers and siblings are likely also very young and may be too inexperienced or immature to take on such a significant role. Normally, one parent is named the primary Agent and the other is the backup. Divorced families may require special consideration. Joint POA is possible but requires the parties to get along.

While actual papers can’t be signed until the student turns 18, families can sit down with an attorney earlier to start making some decisions in advance. It’s best to seek guidance from and establish a relationship with an attorney local to the student’s permanent address, at least until college is over.

Feel free to call me today to learn more about how you can set your college student up for success.

Please be advised that Christina M. Hronek is licensed to practice in the State of Ohio only and the information provided in this article is based upon Ohio law. This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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