While you may be fully aware that the student you are sending off to college (a.k.a. your baby for the past 18-19 years) may not know how to do laundry, clean a toilet or make anything more complex than a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, in the eyes of the law, once your “child” reaches 18 years of age, he or she has reached the “age of majority.” What does this mean? It means that, regardless of whether you are paying for your child’s college education or not, you will have no right to access any of their academic information, including the classes they are taking, the grades they are earning or, even, if they have dropped out or flunked out entirely. It means that, instead of paying for tuition and housing for the semester ahead, your student decided to have an epic 21st birthday in Vegas or finally purchase that Hermes bag she’s been salivating over, you will have no idea that the bills have gone unpaid and he or she has been evicted. It means that, if tragedy should strike and your child is incapacitated or unable to make decisions on his own, you can’t either. UNLESS … you get your legal house in order.
Here are the 5 legal documents you must have in place before your child turns 18 and goes off to college:
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Waiver: In order to access your adult child’s “educational” records, which includes grades, tuition, scholarship awards, and disciplinary actions, you must first have your child provide written consent. Furthermore, any treatment offered by the university health center is covered by FERPA, not HIPPA, so any on-campus medical treatment also requires your child to sign a FERPA waiver.
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) Waiver: If you wish to access health records or inquire about your child’s medical information, he or she must have a HIPPA waiver on file. It is worth noting this is not an all or nothing waiver; your son or daughter can decide on the level of access you have, according to his or her level of comfort.
- Healthcare Power of Attorney: Hopefully, you will never need a healthcare power of attorney, also known as a “health care proxy,” but it’s essential to have just in case. In the event that your child becomes physically or mentally unable to make health care decisions, this document will allow you to step in and make critical health care plans on his behalf.
- Financial Power of Attorney: Similar to a Healthcare Power of Attorney, the Financial Power of Attorney allows you to access your child’s financial records and make important decisions on their behalf, such as filing taxes, signing leases and accessing credit card balances or (gasp) overdraft charges which are just some of things college students may overlook as they are transition to their new lives and schedules.
- Basic Will: If your adult child owns any assets, trusts or is the beneficiary to anyone else’s assets, his or her estate will be subject to probate laws of the jurisdiction in which he or she resides. A basic will is necessary to avoid state-mandated distribution of assets and associated fees.
These legal necessities are not meant to frighten already-anxious parents and teens who are already grappling with the many challenges transitioning to college presents. However, having these 5 simple documents in order can save you a world of hurt in the event that you, one day, need them.
To maximize the likeliness that your college-bound student will be successful, be sure to explore the other parts of The Complete Candidate’s College Transition Playbook:
Part 1: The College Roller Coaster
Part 2: College Success Framework
Part 3: Selecting the Right School
Part 5: Nailing the First Semester
Please note, The Mauler Institute, LLC cannot provide legal or financial advice. The content included in this blog is meant as an introduction to these issues and is not advisory in nature. Please consult with an attorney and/or financial advisor before entering any legal agreements or estate plans.