By Nancy Burner, Esq.
Congratulations! You’re going to be graduating from high school very soon and are (fingers crossed) heading off to college in the fall. In preparation, you are shopping for school supplies, bedding, a new wardrobe, and researching the best classes to take. What you’re likely not thinking about is ensuring you have the proper estate planning documents in place before taking that next step in your life.
Drawing up a will or advanced directives for a college student may seem like an unnecessary task and expense, but once you turn 18, you are considered an adult under New York State law. Since you are no longer under your parents’ care, they do not have an automatic right to make decisions on your behalf. While this may seem like your long-awaited initiation into the freedom of adulthood, the reality is that situations may arise where a parent or other family member’s input is crucial.
Students are especially prone to getting sick or injured and, combined with living on their own, make it necessary to put certain legal directives in place. The three documents every college student needs are a health care proxy, HIPAA release form, and durable power of attorney.
A health care proxy allows you to appoint an agent to make medical decisions for you if you cannot do so for yourself. You can only name one agent but can nominate alternate agents in case your primary agent is unable or unwilling to act. The HIPAA release form further authorizes your agent to obtain your medical information. Without these documents, your parent (or whomever you designate to make such medical decisions) is going to face resistance when it comes to inquiring about the status of your health or providing care instructions to your doctor.
The power of attorney names an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf. The power of attorney does not strip you of your financial powers but rather duplicates them so that your agent can act in your stead if you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to act. A power of attorney can be beneficial if you need someone to pay a bill, apply for financial aid, or hire a professional on your behalf, such as an accountant or lawyer.
Beyond the aforementioned documents, you may also consider a last will and testament and a living will. Although they sound similar, they are very different documents. Depending on the extent of your assets, either saved or inherited, you may want to designate beneficiaries in a last will and testaments or trust. A “living will” documents end of life decisions, such as whether you want to be kept alive by artificial means if you have an incurable disease or are in a persistent vegetative state.
Although these are questions that you will hopefully not face for decades, planning for your future is an important way of taking control of your life. Any new graduate — or eighteen-year-old for that matter — should make time to seek the advice of an Estate Planning attorney to discuss what documents should be in place as you enter the world of adulthood.
Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.