Sending a Child to College: A Legal Survival Guide for Parents
Sending your child away to college can be a chaotic process, with many moving parts and bases to cover. Have you considered that your child is now, or will shortly be a legal adult? Do you know how that changes your relationships with their medical records access and control of decisions, property or finances in the event of an emergency?
Colleges are legally obligated to treat your 18 year old child as the legal adult that they are. This means that as their parent, you may not have access to their financial information or medical records by default. You may also have little control over the decisions that get made on your child’s behalf in the event of an emergency.
Luckily, there are certain legal documents that can help maintain your access to your child’s financial and medical records. Here’s what you need before you send your young adult off to school, and what you can do if your child’s school doesn’t maintain these types of documents.
First, some notes to parents
FIrst and foremost, let’s not add fuel to the fire of first semester stress by assuming the worst. Like you, we like to assume the best and be prepared for the worst, something you did in preparing to finance your child’s degree. (If you didn’t, we bet you wish you did, right?)
These documents will help make sure that your child is legally protected in the event of an emergency, and that you’re able to support them immediately, even if you’re across the country. Having the right documents in place helps protect you, protect your child, and have a plan in place for unlikely, but possible, mishaps.
If your child is going to college out of state, be sure to have these documents filed for each state. State-by-state, there may be different forms and document requirements for specific scenarios. Make sure you’re covered both home and away. Many documents expire annually, so be sure to update your information once per year.
Finally, you might feel like your child is ready to start taking on some of the bigger decisions in their life, including financial, end-of-life or medical emergency planning, or regular medical care decisions. If this is the case, your child should still complete or update some of the documents we’re going to outline below, and we can help guide you through communicating about the importance of some of these decisions.
Does your child handle their own medical care? Do you expect them to?
Maybe you laughed at that headline. Or, maybe now you’re thinking your very mature 18 year old is ready to take on some personal responsibility. Either way, unless your now adult child designates your access to their medical records, you might not have a choice in the event of an emergency or even in scheduling regular care.
Your 18 year old is now a legal adult. Without the right forms, you do not have access to their records, according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) of 1996.
Whether your child has begun handling their own medical care or not, if you are in regular communication with your child’s doctors and you and your child wish to continue that, you’ll need to file HIPPA disclosure agreements with your child’s school and any new doctors.
Will you have control over major decisions in the event of an emergency?
Now that they’re an adult, your child sure has a lot of opinions about themselves and the world, don’t they? A living will can help them detail their wishes for end of life and emergency medical care in the event of a medical emergency. Many of them are getting driver’s licenses at this time, and have been asked to decide whether they’d like to become an organ donor.
Some decisions that are outlined in a living will are simpler than the one the Motor Vehicle Commission asks, and protect your access to them in the event of an emergency.
Elements of a living will might help ensure your child’s choices about end of life or emergency care are honored. Appointing a healthcare power of attorney can help your child designate someone (maybe you or their other parent, for example) to take control of those decisions under appropriate circumstances.
Without a living will or power of attorney, your child’s care choices could default to the standard operating procedures of a given facility, especially if you’re in another state. Take the time to talk with your adult child about what you might need to think through and plan for before heading off to college.
Who will handle your adult child’s finances in an emergency?
You’re probably thinking, “what finances?” or, “I pay all of their bills,” and that may be true. But as your child grows, they’ll soon be seeking a job. They’re still liable for taxes if they’re already working and for some reason unable to continue handling their financial responsibilities.
This could also be true for paying bills, fines, or tickets, or applying for government benefits on their behalf. If they’re unable to do these things on their own, and you’re not legally able to, who will?
A durable power of attorney will ensure that you have control over your child’s finances and medical choices (depending on what’s outlined in your documents) regardless of a specific event or medical situation. So whether your child is mid-emergency or safe and sound in their dorm room, your rights and access remain the same.
What if the school doesn’t maintain documents like these?
Some colleges won’t maintain these records, which leaves the burden on you to maintain your records yourself and know what you need in an emergency.
That is, until recently. Beinhaker Law has developed a single-card solution for maintaining your legal records in a responsive and quickly accessible database. DocuBank is a digital records vault that gives you access to all of your important documents in an emergency.
Any medical center can access your records via secure login through the DocuBank website, or we can fax them right away. Your child’s card can also have allergies and medications listed, and outline up to three people to be contacted in the event of an emergency. Store all of your child’s legal documents in one secure place and give yourself the peace of mind of immediate document access.
If you’re ready to learn more about DocuBank subscriptions and features, get in touch with us today to schedule your Student Privacy Bundle service with us.