The Legal Documents All College Students Need

In just a few months, our high school graduates will head off to college. We’ll make sure they have the text books they need, the right-sized dorm sheets, perhaps even a min-fridge. But what about the proper legal documents? Despite what many parents think, the law does not give you the authority to act on behalf of an adult child. It’s crucial for anyone 18 and older to have a durable power of attorney and designation of patient advocate in place. These documents allow the student to authorize someone else – you – to act on his or her behalf should the need arise.

A durable power of attorney deals with business and financial matters. This document allows the individual named (often called “agent”) to act on behalf of the college student when necessary, and without the college student needing to be present. The following list provides a few examples of what a durable power of attorney would allow you to do, if you are named as an agent for your child:

  • Handle banking matters;
  • Handle tuition payments and rental agreements; and
  • Sign legal documents.

In essence, it allows a parent, as an agent, to handle all of the child’s business and financial affairs as needed – even in the unfortunate event of an unexpected disability.

A designation of patient advocate deals with health care matters. This document permits an individual to name a patient advocate, who is then able to make decisions regarding care, custody, medical and/or mental health when the individual is no longer able to communicate those decisions on his or her own (as certified by two physicians). A designation of patient advocate also allows another person to authorize the withholding or withdrawal of life support systems, and to authorize or refuse organ donation in the event of death. All college students should have a designation of patient advocate in place. Unfortunately, accidents happen.  If for any reason, your student becomes unable to make medical decisions, you would be able to step in and act according to his or her wishes.

As much as we might prefer to avoid the topic of death or disability, it’s important that we have open conversations with our children. If you have a child heading off to college this fall, be aware of the importance of having a durable power of attorney and designation of patient advocate in place. If you have questions or would like to speak to someone about preparing these documents, please contact Melisa M. W. Mysliwiec at (616) 301-0800, or e-mail her at