There are an awful lot of deadlines and requirements when preparing to send your child to college for the first time. One that you don’t want to miss is estate planning. Most eighteen-year-olds are focused on applications, residence hall requirements, and class registration, but there are some important legal documents you should consider filling out before your child goes off to college.
Paying the bills gives you no rights
Once your child turns eighteen, they legally become a stranger to you. Even if you’re paying for college, covering their health insurance, and claiming them as dependents on your tax returns, you have no more right to their healthcare and financial affairs than you would a stranger on the street.
Contact an estate planning expert
You’ve spent eighteen years preparing them to take care of themselves, but they may still need you in an emergency. If an accident or illness occurs and your child needs an advocate, you may be unable to access their health records or receive status updates from the medical team. Worse, you may not be able to make medical decisions on their behalf when they’re incapacitated. Before your teen leaves home, it pays to discuss a few legal matters.
It’s not all or nothing
Every young adult is entitled to privacy. Legal documents can be as broad or narrow as you wish and can be revoked by a competent young adult at any time. That’s why it’s important to consult a Wills and Estates lawyer. Discuss in advance, as a family, what important information parents can access, including grades, finances, and health records. Each state’s laws vary, so an expert can help you sign the correct documents that will help in an emergency, but allow your young adult the autonomy they’ve earned.
Don’t wait until it’s too late
If your college student needs medical attention (including for mental health purposes), medical professionals will require a signed release or court order before sharing information or records with a parent. If the child is incapacitated, it’s too late for them to authorize a parent to make decisions on their behalf and you may require a court order.
Discuss these forms with an expert and your young adult
Some families may consider a FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) Waiver which can allow designated family members to access grades and transcripts.
A signed HIPAA authorization is one that every adult should have. It allows healthcare providers to disclose your health information to anyone you specify. This critical document doesn’t require a notary or witness but allows parents to get information from the hospital. Young adults can stipulate which information can be disclosed and to whom.
A healthcare power of attorney encompasses more authority than a simple HIPAA, although they’re often combined into a single hybrid document. It authorizes anyone the student designates to make medical decisions on their behalf. If your student attends college out of state, fill out the forms relevant to the home state and school state to avoid any challenges.
Discuss having one parent become an authorized signer on your student’s bank account so that parents can pay bills in a timely fashion if the child becomes briefly incapacitated.
If your student studies abroad, consider a durable power of attorney. Although it can give sweeping rights to the designated agents, it allows them to legally sign tax returns, register a car on their behalf, access bank accounts, and pay bills.
Continue to advocate for them in college
Many of the college forms are urgent and have deadlines. It would be easy to let these important documents slip by without a deadline looming over your shoulder, but you shouldn’t miss meeting with an estate expert before your child leaves for college. A little bit of preparation will help keep your kids safe and stable when they need you the most.
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