Marcia was extremely proud of her daughter graduating high school with honors and getting into a top college. She was also pleased that Stephanie was OK with her decision to move a few hundred miles away to attend college, but Marcia would have loved it more if her daughter were going to be home a little more often. But, as she had learned from friends and family (including her own mother), letting go is a big part of being a parent.
In her errands for the week, she had a lot of things to pick up for Stephanie. New sheets and blankets for her dorm room, the upgraded laptop with more memory and programs, and copies of her daughter’s medical records to be forwarded to the college’s health center. She made the stop for the last item first, running in to Doctor Hart’s office. Dr. Hart had been Stephanie’s pediatrician since just after birth, and she had been there through the colds, appendicitis, and many lollipops given after immunization shots.
“I’m sorry Ms. Oliver, but I can’t give you Stephanie’s medical records,” the receptionist said.
Marcia was dumbfounded. “What do you mean I can’t get my daughter’s records?” she said. “I’m her mother! I’ve been coming here for 18 years with all of my children, including Stephanie and I’ve never had a problem before.”
“I do apologize Ms. Oliver, but that’s the problem,” the receptionist said. “Stephanie is now 18, and as a legal adult she is in charge of making her own medical decisions. We need her permission in writing to give you her medical records.”
During this time of great excitement for many college-bound students, parents are wrapped up in paperwork for the school, getting things ready for their child to move, filling out paperwork for student loans, tuning up cars, and filling out even more paperwork still. Unfortunately, this is also the very first time that some parents realize that their child is a legal adult, and many of the decisions and permissions they had regarding their child’s health and financial well-being have disappeared. No longer are Mom or Dad able to make decisions for their child automatically. There is some additional paperwork needed to make sure that parents can work on their adult child’s behalf—powers of attorney.
While many people look at healthcare powers of attorney and durable general powers of attorney as documents older people need if they become ill, they are actually critical to making sure that an adult child has the right people in place if anything should happen to them, or even just for matters of convenience. Having a healthcare power of attorney in place means that a parent can access medical records and make healthcare decisions in a crisis. What may be even more important is that alternate people can be named in the event of a medical emergency. I have often had clients with children going away to college near a close friend or relative, and if the parents are not available then having Uncle Tim or Cousin Sarah listed as healthcare agents can be a safety net in an emergency. It also can make clear that a healthcare agent can access all medical information at any time.
The durable general power of attorney may also become a great help to parents in being able to assist with and monitor financial, legal, and other matters that may come up. What happens if additional banking information is needed regarding student loans? What if more information is needed regarding an unpaid parking ticket at home? What if money needs to be transferred between the child’s accounts? Dealing with financial or government bureaucracies are never pleasant, but it may be extremely difficult for a college student to handle when they are away at school, especially if a parent had been handling these things in the past. A durable general power of attorney naming the parents as power of attorney agents can ensure that the parents can continue to handle these items, at least while the child is away at school.
While there are many tasks to handle before a child goes away to college, it is important to remember that their children, as now-legal adults, may still be relying on parents to handle certain things, but the parents may not have the legal right to continue doing so. But having the right power of attorney documents in place can make sure that these things are handled properly.

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