By Michele D. Gartland

If you’ll be dropping off your son or daughter on a college campus this fall, you probably have a long checklist of items. Along with the dorm supplies and books, you should add certain essential documents—giving you the legal authority to act on behalf of your child for financial and medical matters.

While college is about new experiences and fostering independence in your young adult, unexpected things can happen and you need to be prepared. These documents are vital in the event your child becomes sick or injured—and especially critical if he or she struggles with substance abuse or emotional issues that can impair their ability to make medical and legal decisions. We recommend the following four documents be created for your young adult:

1. Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information—which allows medical institutions to release medical records to a parent;

2. Durable Power of Attorney—which allows your child to appoint an agent to handle legal and financial responsibilities as needed;

3. Health Care Proxy—which authorizes someone else to make medical decisions if necessary;

4. Living Will—which designates end-of-life choices for your child.

While your child may always be a child in your eyes, at the age of 18, he or she is considered a legal adult—which means that hospitals and other institutions will not let you make decisions for them without these documents in place. You may want to have an open and honest conversation with them. Remind your child that unforeseen accidents and situations happen and these documents provide protection for them. Encourage them to read the documents fully. Your child may actually see these documents as another step toward independence. The Durable Power of Attorney is especially important—it gives you the ability to make financial decisions for your child in case of emergency without taking away the independence they crave as they begin this new and exciting stage.

Michele D. Gartland practices in the areas of trusts and estates. Please contact Michele D. Gartland or Marianne C. Cirillo directly with any questions or email us at