The last few weeks my house has been filled with teenagers. My son and his friends are trying to get in as much time together as possible before they head off to college and gap year programs. Among their packing lists and last minute plans, few teens or parents are thinking about legal documents.
However, the hard reality is that once your child turns 18, they are a legal adult and you have no legal authority over them (even if you are paying all the bills. Your access to their medical records ends, unless they complete a form called a HIPAA Authorization. Your child must sign the form to give you access to their records, appointments, test results, etc. In addition, you cannot necessarily make health care decisions for them in the event of an emergency.
We often don’t think young adults need powers of attorney because they have limited assets. However, chances are your student is heading off to college with a debit card and a credit card. Yet, you have no legal authority when it comes to those accounts. Even if you are funding their bank account, you cannot control the funds once deposited.
Colleges have a form known as FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), which you usually can obtain at some point during orientation. This is a document that gives you the legal right to your child’s academic and financial information through the college. Think of this as the college’s HIPAA law. It’s not the same, but it can create the same level of obstruction, if you do not address it in advance. With it in place, you’ll be able to discuss their finances with the bursar’s office, their grades with their academic advisor and many other offices in the college that will otherwise refuse to speak with you. Students with special needs who are working with the disability office and a therapist on campus may need additional planning.
College is a transition time for both students and parents. Having these documents properly prepared, will give you some peace of mind, as your child leaves the nest.