Preparing for College? Include Legal Documents and Important Discussions

Unless you have the proper legal documents in place, once your child turns 18, you no longer have access to their health information or academic information. Most importantly, you do not have the legal right to make medical decisions on their behalf. Preparing these documents before your child leaves for college is more important than furnishing a dorm room.

Preparing to send a child away to college for the first time is exciting, but there are serious issues to consider. A recent article from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “How to prepare for kid going off to college” addresses issues concerning healthcare and credit card finances.

Health care: When a child turns 18, you are able to continue to keep him/her on your insurance plan, but they’re considered a legal adult under HIPAA as far as disclosing health information. As a parent, you’re no longer legally permitted to access their health information when they go off to college and get sick or if they’re in a car accident and in the hospital. Because of the HIPAA restrictions, you should have an estate-planning attorney draw up a health-care power of attorney which names a parent or parents as the health-care agent so you can obtain their medical information or speak to healthcare professionals on their behalf if they are incapacitated . Have a conversation with your child about the changes that happen when they become an adult and how a health-care power of attorney will protect them. Keep a copy of the document at home and have your son or daughter keep a copy at school. Scan it as well so you have it in electronic format to email to a physician or to an ER if needed.

Credit cards: Anyone under 21 applying for a credit card must have an independent source of funds to pay the bills, so that’s good news for parents. Many college freshmen use credit cards cosigned by parents. Parents should sign up for mobile alerts to monitor their student’s expenses, and talk to them about budgeting.

If your child goes on a shopping spree and there are payment issues, your credit is going to take a hit. You can avoid this by paying the bills yourself and having your kid reimburse you for his or her expenses each month. You can also go with a debit card instead of a credit card. When the money is gone, it’s gone. Another option is to add your child as an authorized user on your account so that he will have his own card and start to build a credit history. However, you’re the one managing the account.

While you’re thinking about all of these important issues, you also should take the time to review your estate planning now that your son or daughter is an adult and possibly no longer living at home. Talk to your estate planning attorney about some of the common changes people consider at this point in the life of a family.

Reference: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (August 8, 2015) “How to prepare for kid going off to college”