Does Your College Student Need a Power of Attorney?

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You've thought of everything for your college-bound child—housing, books, a laptop—but what about his or her power of attorney?

Starting college often coincides with the time a child becomes an adult in the eyes of the law. Once a child turns 18, you can no longer make decisions or respond to inquiries on his or her behalf. The question is, what happens when legal issues arise at home and your child is away at school and can't address them?

The person to whom power of attorney is granted is called the attorney-in-fact. As attorney-in-fact, you can manage financial and legal matters on behalf of your adult child.

It may seem of minimal importance in the midst of packing, parties, and long goodbyes, but it can be vital. On the most basic level, if you are granted power of attorney, you can help with everyday tasks like responding to a jury duty summons or renewing a passport, driver's license, or car registration. More importantly, having power of attorney allows you to make medical decisions for your child in the event of an emergency.

Not sure you need power of attorney? Here are some things for you and your child to consider:

Location/Distance

Your child might not be able to travel back and forth from college to home on short notice should a legal or financial matter arise.

Current/Ongoing Legal Issue

If your child is involved in an open or pending lawsuit from that fender-bender a few months back, would you want him or her to miss school to deal with it?

Business Commitments

An attorney-in-fact can keep your child's business running smoothly even when your child isn't around to manage day-to-day decisions.

Illness or Disability

If your child has an illness or disability that may prevent him or her from making certain legal or financial decisions, a power of attorney can enable you to continue to look out for your child.

Worst-Case Scenario

If something should happen to your child at school (such as a serious car accident), or while he or she is out of the country (like during a semester abroad), a power of attorney can allow you to make healthcare decisions for your child.

As processes and laws for powers of attorney vary by state, be sure you've done the research and discussed with your attorney the appropriate course of action for you and your college-bound student. And once you've made the decision to serve as your child's attorney-in-fact, be sure to inform the college or university.

Preparing for the move to college can be an anxious time whether your child is moving a mile away or a thousand miles away, and it's easy to overlook things with so much to do. Don't forget a power of attorney—it should be one of the most important things on your to-do list.