Aug. 15, 2022

Essentials for your First-Year College Student

By Christine P. Yates

"Finally…" a common expression of relief said by (most) parents and (practically all) recently-graduated high school graduates – and now they are off to college. As a parent, you are probably hoping your "child" achieves the goals they set to accomplish, i.e., get good grades and get a good job – but what about still taking care of your "independent" child, like their tuition, costs, or expenses they incur? Sure, the school they attend may set you up with a "surrogacy" or "proxy" to access their medical or financial accounts, but this may be unintentionally misleading because these may be limited to those related or tied to the school and may not provide the parents the assurance they need. 

For the child, as a recently-graduated high school student heading into their freshman year of college, the thought of what to do in case of an emergency when they are unable to handle their financial affairs or in a medical emergency has not crossed their minds – or the parents'. Frankly, no one is to blame for not thinking of what to do in the case of an emergency because, throughout the first eighteen years of the child's life, the parent was the child's natural guardian with the ability to manage the child's affairs – both medical and financial. The parent normally is the one who accompanies the child to the doctor's for most of their visits (even when the child has their own car) or to the bank to open their first account. 

In some scenarios, the parent is frequently the person involved in the child's affairs even once they turn eighteen – such as assistance with setting up the child's rental payments, credit card payments, and access to medical records (and even making sure their bills are paid) until the child is reasonably responsible to handle their affairs on their own without assistance. However, in each of these scenarios, without the child granting authority, the parent is unable to assist. Taking it a step further, picture the scenario where your child goes on one of their many trips with their friends for the weekend and an accident occurs. The parent rushes to the medical facility expecting to be given the rundown of the child's condition, but the doctors cannot answer any of their questions because the child is no longer a minor under the eyes of the law, despite them being "still a kid." To further fret at the situation, the child's bills are due and the parents are unable to pay for them without digging into their own pockets because the bank no longer grants them access to their child's account. Even worse, the parents cannot talk to the insurance companies for the same reason – the list is possibly endless and for scenarios like these, it is not practical for the parent to go to court to commence a guardianship proceeding (which is costly and inefficient).

However, there are preventative measures to avoid these scenarios. For the medical scenario, Florida offers what is called a "Health Care Surrogate" which allows the agent (in this scenario, the parent) to make health care decisions for a principal (i.e., the child) or receive health information on behalf of a principal. For the financial scenario, Florida authorizes the now-adult ("child") to execute a "Durable Power of Attorney," which grants authority to the parent to act in the place of the child. Both these documents grant authority, in this case, for the parent to act on behalf of the child should an emergency arise where the child is unable to handle their affairs – medically and/or financially.

Those are great for the parent – but what about the eighteen-year-old who wants to be independent? At eighteen, this is not a common thought to have when you are thinking about passing your classes and other social aspects college has to offer. The knee-jerk reaction is likely, "I do not want my parents to have access to my account" or "I do not want them to know my visits to the doctor" – which are natural reactions. You cannot force them to sign these documents – after all, they are an adult. To ease the now-independent child, the child is able to place limitations on the authority granted to the parent, such as only being able to view financial accounts without being able to withdraw money or having access to medical records without being able to make medical decisions on their behalf. Down the road, if the child no longer wants the parent to be their agent for medical or financial purposes, the child can revoke this authority if they are still competent. As an aside, it may be relieving to note for the child that there are measures to protect against any breaches of the parent's fiduciary duty (as their agent) if the parents mismanage or handle their funds or medical information.

Nevertheless, explaining these benefits to the child can really ease the pressure on both the parent and the child to know what to do in the case of an emergency. It really should not be seen as a "challenge" to the parent to execute this document, rather it should be an opportunity to teach this to the child and explain these benefits if they have to face this reality.  The discussion with the child should help them analyze during these transitional years weighing giving up some privacy to grant the parents the ability to assist them if necessary because the Health Care Surrogate and the Durable Power of Attorney do provide a benefit for the child – who is the intended benefactor. 

If you have a child heading off to college, you should have that discussion with them, and we would be happy to assist you with any questions you or your child may have. If your child needs assistance in preparing a Health Care Surrogate or a Durable Power of Attorney, feel free to contact us.

 

Christine P. Yates, a director with Tripp Scott, leads the firm's Private Wealth Service group with over 24 years of experience guiding her clients through the full spectrum of estate transfer issues.  From small administrations to estates in excess of $1 billion, clients receive counsel on estate, gift and generation-skipping planning, trust and estate administration, and fiduciary litigation while maintaining the utmost discretion and confidentiality.

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