Summer is slipping away

Summer is slipping away

By Randy Ratliff

For a lot of us, that means our children are headed off to college. It’s an exciting and scary time for our kids and often a tad melancholy for parents as we become empty nesters.  Our children are now adults (or soon will be). There’s a lot of new experiences headed their way: financial aid, loans, dorms, apartments, roommates, the Freshman 15, and on and on.

In the crazy run up to that fall semester, many parents overlook a few very important estate planning matters. ​Some find out the hard way. Following up on my last column, I want to remind you that because our children are now adults, we no longer automatically get to act on their behalf.

We may feel that we still have the final say in their lives, but once they are 18 the law says otherwise. That means our children will have to authorize us to act on their behalf. At a minimum, everyone over 18 needs a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, a HIPAA Authorization, and Durable Power of Attorney (for finances and legal decisions).  Let’s look at each in turn.

No one wants to think it will happen to their child, but from accidents or sports injuries to unexpected illnesses to alcohol poisoning at a frat party, about a quarter of a million young adults between 18-25 wind up in the hospital every year. If your child is far away at school, your ability to make immediate and necessary healthcare decisions can be significantly impaired. If your child has designated you as his or her health care power of attorney in advance, you will be able to make telephone consults with healthcare providers while you are en route to an emergency. Make sure ensure that creating a health care power of attorney is at the top of the to-do list – yours and his or hers.

A HIPAA authorization is also essential in making informed medical decisions. While most providers have their own forms, having one of your own in advance, can help you avoid delay when time is of the essence. Without it, parents would be unable to communicate with healthcare professionals and insurance companies or access their child’s health records and previous treatment information.

Like a health care power of attorney, a financial/legal power of attorney gives you the ability to make financial and legal decisions on your child’s behalf if they are unable to do it for themselves. Should your child become disabled for any reason, then a financial/legal power of attorney would allow you to pay your child’s rent, credit card bills, utilities, access bank accounts and financial records, and manage their loans.

While these three are essential tools, a FERPA Release can also come in handy. FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It protects a college student’s privacy. It also locks parents out. A properly worded release can allow you to talk to school officials and obtain pertinent educational records and information should you need them.

Finally, it is also important for your children to consider creating a will. While few teenage or college-aged children have large estates or complex asset distributions, a will allows your children to give you guidance regarding what should be done with their social media accounts, bank accounts, and personal assets. It also allows your child to specify any funeral arrangements he or she would like to have and lets you, as parents, know that you have honored your child’s wishes.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, but be sure to take time to prepare for the unexpected this school year.

Randy Ratliff is a Brentwood attorney practicing estate and elder law. He can be reached at or

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