College Bound? Critical Legal Documents College Students Need

College Bound? Critical Legal Documents College Students Need

Most parents know — in theory, at least — that when a child turns 18 the child is considered an adult with all the attendant legal rights of adulthood. This abrupt transfer of power and the full significance may not be apparent until something happens that drives that reality home.

The following statement is difficult for many parents to digest: Just because you are the parent, providing emotional and financial support, does not give you legal rights over your child after they turn 18 . . . even if you are paying their college tuition, even if they are on your health insurance plan, and even if you claim them as a dependent on your tax returns.

That is why, as your recent high school graduate prepares to head off to college or pursue opportunities far from home, there are three legal documents that should be added to the packing checklist: 1) A medical power of attorney; 2) a financial power of attorney; and 3) a Will.  These should be in place before a young adult leaves home.

Medical Durable Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney (MPOA) must be in place for a parent to have authority to make medical decisions in an emergency or in a situation where the child is unable to make medical decisions on their own. This document nominates a parent, or both parents, to be the child’s patient advocate. It should include HIPAA compliant language to authorize the patient advocate to have access to the child’s private and protected medical information. It may also include instructions about life-sustaining treatment and organ donation.

I experienced first-hand the importance of the MPOA when one of my children went through serious medical treatments their first year in college. I have also dealt with a frantic mother whose daughter had a medical emergency at college, and the mother was denied information about her daughter’s condition because there was no authorization in place to release information to the mother.

Without an MPOA in place, a parent may have to go to court where the child is located to be given authority to make medical and decisions for the adult child. Which makes this document even more important if the child has a parent that he/she/they does NOT want to have a say in the child’s medical treatment or access to information. Or the child might prefer a stepparent over a biological parent. This often arises where a child is estranged from a parent or in blended family relationships. Both biological parents have equal rights to be appointed in court as guardian for an adult child unless there is an MPOA that prioritizes one parent over the other or nominates a stepparent instead.

Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney (FPOA) gives a parent – or other trusted adult – the authority to make financial and legal decisions on behalf of the adult child. This authority will be needed in the event of an accident or illness that renders the child unable to engage in financial or legal transactions. It may be necessary to access bank accounts, engage with a child’s employer, deal with the college, and handle routine matters, such as auto insurance or an apartment lease. The FPOA allows a trusted adult to step in without getting judges, courts, and lawyers involved.

Last Will & Testament

Young adults are immortal. Remember how that felt? The MPOA and FPOA are in place for any distressing events along life’s journey, but if the unthinkable happens, a Will may be helpful to make sure that the right person is given authority to oversee disposition of the child’s property and to commence any legal proceedings required to hold others accountable for negligent actions.

A Will can be a simple document by which a young adult acknowledges their mortality and by which they pronounce support for a beloved person, a favorite charity, or a cause. While a Will is not as critical as the MPOA and FPOA, it is important to have if a young adult wishes to exclude an heir-at-law (perhaps an estranged parent) from inheriting through the child or would rather support a sibling or favorite charity rather than a parent.

Additional Recommendations

In addition to the three legal documents above, there are some practical steps a young adult should take before venturing from home:

  • Add beneficiaries to financial accounts. This will allow the accounts to transfer to the designated persons without the need for probate (or the Will).
  • Leave a copy of important papers (driver’s license, Social Security card, auto registration and insurance card, bank account(s), etc.) with a parents or sibling.
  • Add a parent or other person as emergency contact in a phone or keep a small emergency contact card in a purse or wallet.
  • Give a parent or sibling the name and contact information of a roommate or college friend.

We’ve Streamlined the Process for Busy Families

Having had three children go through college, I am aware that preparing for college life is hectic for parents and their adult children. Therefore, I have implemented a streamlined process for young adults to quickly obtain these important legal documents. After a phone or video conversation with a young adult (they are the client after all), the young adult will come to our office where I will explain the legal significance and operation of the documents in plain English. Ideally, parents will attend also to ensure that all family members understand the legal rights a parent has – and doesn’t have – once the documents are signed. While I will spend as much time as needed, most appointments take less than 30 minutes.


Investing a little time to obtain these important legal documents allows parents, or trusted persons, to act in emergency situations without the confusion and delay that can occur without the documents. I offer special pricing discounts for children of existing clients. But I feel so strongly about the importance of these documents that I offer budget prices for everyone.

Please contact Norman (Gene) Richards or his legal assistant, Rita Turner, to schedule an appointment. They may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or by email at or Mr. Richards is available to meet throughout the day and on select evenings.  

Norman E. Richards (Gene) is a partner in our Livonia office where he focuses his practice on estate planning and elder law. He assists clients with the development of customized estate plans to address their specific needs, including family owned businesses, senior adults concerned about long term care needs, and special needs trusts for children with special needs. He may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or


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