Many older Americans know that they need to prepare for their death. They need to have a series of estate planning documents in place to deal with their affairs in case of a medical emergency or their passing. These documents — including a power of attorney, health proxy and will — can help make sure a person is taken care of and comfortable before and after death. Without these documents in place, a Michigan family may have to struggle through the probate courts to be able to finalize a person’s affairs.

While estate planning is necessary for older Americans, many young people forget that they also need a plan in case of emergency. In particular, college-aged adults should make sure they have a basic estate plan in place. When people go off to college, they may still think of themselves as under the control of their parents. Similarly, parents — who are often still paying for all the student’s expenses — may see their child as a kid. However, in the eyes of the law, college students are adults once they reach age 18. Therefore, in cases of emergency where medical decisions, end-of-life care or other major financial decisions need to be made, parents are not going to have control without the appropriate legal documents.

College students should prepare for these emergencies by making sure some basic estate planning is complete prior to heading off to school. These students should make sure to designate a health-care proxy to make medical decisions in case they are unable to. This proxy could also help keep their parents informed of their situation in the event that students are not able to consent. These students may also want to consider appointing a financial power of attorney. This way, their parents could handle their financial affairs during emergencies without the parents needing to go to a court to get approval.

Without thinking about these basic estate planning needs, college students and their parents may find themselves unprepared during an emergency. While nobody wants to think about a worst case scenario, this kind of planning can be essential to avoiding court battles if the student becomes incapacitated.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Why Your College-Age Children Need an Estate Plan,” Anne Tergesen, Sep. 21, 2013

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