If your child is headed to college, you are likely experiencing mixed emotions. While it is exciting to see your child branch out and become an adult, it can also be nerve-wracking and bittersweet for many parents. We all want to know that we are doing everything we can to ensure our children stay safe, healthy, and secure so they can pursue their dreams to the fullest. During this hectic and emotional time, parents may be all-consumed with helping their child prepare for their next chapter, making it easy to overlook important legal matters.
Although you may be accustomed to playing an active role in your child’s health, financial, academic, and other decisions, your child’s eighteenth birthday marks the transition to adulthood and significantly changes the legal landscape when it comes to a parent’s ability to take care of your child’s needs. For that reason, it is important to have a legal plan in place for your child before they head off to college. Before your child leaves, you should discuss and consider obtaining the following basic, yet essential, legal documents, so you can make decisions on your child’s behalf in case of an emergency. It might also be a good idea to have your child execute a simple will at this time.
Healthcare Power of Attorney and HIPAA Authorization
Many parents assume if their college-aged child is in need of medical attention, including mental health care, they will be immediately contacted and will have full rights to make decisions, but this is not the case. When your child becomes a legal adult, you no longer have the authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf. As such, a healthcare power of attorney is essential, as it allows your child to appoint an individual to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so due to illness or incapacity. Without a healthcare power of attorney, if something were to happen to your child, you may need to petition a court to be named as guardian or conservator, a time-consuming and expensive process.
In addition, once your child turns eighteen, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) dictates that healthcare professionals cannot disclose your child’s medical information without your child’s signed consent. A release of information must be signed by your child for a doctor to speak to anyone about your child’s care or medical information. This release, sometimes known as a HIPAA Authorization, will be the only way for you to have access to your child’s medical information, even if they are still covered under your health insurance.
Durable Financial Power of Attorney
If your child is going away to college or spending any significant time away from home, having a durable financial power of attorney in place may be helpful. Up until now, if your child needed a parent to make a withdrawal from a bank account or sign something on their behalf, there was no need for any additional steps because you were your child’s legal guardian. However, after age eighteen, a child must grant a parent with this authority through a financial power of attorney. A durable financial power of attorney allows your child to appoint an agent to have access to their finances, including bank accounts, scholarship funds, rental agreements, and insurance matters, and to make financial decisions on their behalf.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is designed to protect college students’ privacy, but it can leave parents locked out in an emergency. A properly worded release allows school officials to talk with you and release your child’s academic records to you.
Last Will and Testament
At first glance, it may seem unnecessary for an 18-year-old to consider a last will and testament. However, it is never too early to instill responsible habits in your child. Further, while your children may not have significant financial assets, they likely do have other assets that they may wish to consider, such as social media and other accounts. They also have tangible personal property which may have more sentimental than financial value. The execution of a simple will allows your child to dispose of assets in the manner that they wish, no matter the actual monetary value.
Transitioning away from the structure and support of home will be a big adjustment for your child and for your entire family. It can be a thrilling time, as your child seeks out new passions, explores the world, and develops into adulthood, but it is important not to overlook the legal implications of parenting a young adult. You can prepare a legal plan for your college student ahead of time by working with a lawyer. Colleges and universities will have their own free FERPA forms, so don’t forget to inquire. Other resources include the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society (cvlas.org) and the Virginia State Bar (vsb.org). You can also check the Terry Frank Law website for periodic updates and free downloadable forms and checklists. This process will give you peace of mind and will greatly reduce any legal hurdles you may face while your child is attending college.