Originally posted on August 18, 2011 here.

It’s back to school time, and if you have college-age children, you’re probably busy helping them get organized to leave home.  While most packing lists include extra-long twin sheets and expressly forbid hotplates, there’s something else your budding intellectual shouldn’t leave home without: basic financial and medical estate planning documents.  If your children are over 18, federal privacy laws protect their financial and medical information.  Three basic estate planning documents will authorize you to act on behalf of your child, in the event that your child cannot make such decisions for him- or herself.

A Durable Power of Attorney for financial purposes designates an attorney-in-fact to act on your child’s behalf in all financial, tax, legal, investment, and insurance matters if your child becomes incapacitated and is no longer able to make decisions for him- or herself relating to those matters. 

A Medical Directive and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions directs health care providers regarding whether or not to use extraordinary measures in prolonging the life of your child if he or she has a terminal condition, an end stage condition, or is in a persistent vegetative state. This document also allows your child to designate an attorney-in-fact to provide informed consent for medical treatment if he or she is not able to do so.

Typically, your child would designate you (and your spouse) to serve as attorney(s)-in-fact to make financial and health care decisions under these documents.   If neither parent is able to serve as attorney-in-fact, your child may name an adult sibling, aunt, uncle or other adult relative, or trusted family friend to serve as successor attorney-in-fact.

An Authorization for Disclosure of Protected Health Information is an essential companion to a Durable Power of Attorney for financial purposes and a Medical Directive and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions. Under both of these documents, an attorney-in-fact’s authority will not begin until your child’s attending physician certifies in writing that he or she is incapacitated. Because that information will be considered private medical information, covered by the privacy rules of federal law, an Authorization for Disclosure of Protected Health Information will allow your child’s attorney(s)-in-fact to obtain his or her medical records to make health care decisions under a Medical Directive and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions and financial decisions under a Durable Power of Attorney for financial purposes.

When your kids are off at school, you probably have plenty to worry about.   With these basic estate planning documents in place, you can rest assured that in the slim chance that anything does go awry, you’ll be able to step in and carry out your child’s wishes, and not waste time arguing with doctors and financial institutions over access to medical records and bank accounts.