Legal documents every college student needs

Millions of students will soon be going to college campuses across the nation. Some will inevitably run into sticky situations, both expected and unexpected, while they're away from home.

So, now's the time for students and their parents to make some legal plans together. Documents to consider include a power of attorney, a health care proxy, medical information releases and possibly a will. Here's what these are and why a student may need them.

Power of attorney: It can give the student's parent the authority to sign documents on the student's behalf and give the parent access to and direct transactions for the student's financial accounts. You can either execute a durable general power of attorney, or you can sign an access authorization form prepared by the financial firm that holds each of the student's accounts. Either way, having one will give you the legal authorization to assist your student.

Health care proxy and living will: They allow a parent to make medical decisions if the student is physically unable to do so. Don't find out too late that your student has been admitted to a hospital and you're not authorized to discuss treatment plans or make urgent decisions regarding care. A living will outlines the student's wishes about life-extending medical treatment and addresses other intentions, such as organ donations.

HIPAA form: Named for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, this form authorizes medical care providers to release and share medical information about the student to parents. Without it, health providers are legally prohibited from sharing this information even with a student's family members.

Will: Some students should also consider having a will to spell out what happens to their assets if they die. Because most students have few personal possessions and they can name beneficiaries on their financial accounts, a will may not be necessary. But in certain situations, such as when a student owns real estate or is the beneficiary of a trust, a will is important to ensure that plans are in place for these assets' disposition.

Getting these legal documents prepared and signed in advance and keeping copies on hand is a good precaution. Parents and students should also talk about privacy and under what scenarios these documents would be used. Parents whose health insurance covers their students should check with the insurance company to see what processes need to be followed if the student goes to school out of state or abroad.

  • Ray Martin

    View all articles by Ray Martin on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Ray Martin has been a practicing financial advisor since 1986, providing financial guidance and advice to individuals. He has appeared regularly as a contributor on the CBS Early Show, CBS NewsPath, as a columnist on CBS Moneywatch.com and on NBC-TV's morning newscast TODAY. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the author of two books.