Sending your child off to college can be both an exciting and stressful time. The checklist is out with all the things needed to move to a dorm or an apartment.

Bedding? Check.

Refrigerator and microwave? Check.

But what about appointing a power of attorney? It may seem silly to do this now for a kid going off to college, but in the end, it will save everyone massive headaches.

If that child faces a daunting legal, health or financial challenge, chances are, the parents will have no legal authority to step in and help without being appointed power of attorney.

Robert Shanahan, a partner at the Flemington firm Shanahan and Voigt, said power of attorney is a document where a person over 18 specifies who will take care of their financial affairs if they cannot. That could be because they are on another continent, away at college or incapacitated for medical reasons.

Usually a child will appoint a parent or a legal guardian as their power of attorney. Once appointed, that parent or guardian can legally handle all of the child's financial affairs such as transfer funds or pay the bills.

A power of attorney can also buy or sell real estate for the child, open and close bank accounts and sign their tax returns.

Shanahan said power of attorney for health care is even more important than financial care. If a child is in an accident or lying in a hospital and is incapacitated, a parent cannot make any medical decisions on their behalf unless that child has appointed the parent as his or her POA.

If there is no POA appointed, Shanahan said that's when things get complicated and costly. If a child is in a hospital and unable to communicate, a parent may have to see an attorney and file a guardianship case in the court. In New Jersey, that would require getting two doctors who would personally examine the patient, issue certifications and reports. Two lawyers would also have to be hired to go through court proceedings which could take anywhere between 60 and 90 days, he said.

Getting the power of attorney paperwork is easy. Just go see an attorney, especially one who may have done the parent's will. If the parent hasn't done a will, now's a great time to do it and while they're at it.

Shanahan warned that parents and children cannot let this go. Most parents don't even find out about this issue until they try to access their child's grades. That's when the college will say they cannot legally release the grades to a parent because the child is 18 and legally an adult. The college does not care that the parent is paying the tuition, books and room and board. Shanahan said it's time to realize 18 is a benchmark age and the law presumes they can handle all these things themselves.

The last thing a parent wants to do if their child is in a hospital and a medical decision has to be made, is running around in a crisis situation trying to untangle a legal mess.

“Do it now," he said.

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