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Graduation Over? Time for Essential Documents for Every College Student

Graduation brings legal changes
You can no longer make medical or financial decisions for your children without proper paperwork.

It is very gratifying to raise children, make sure they are educated and see that eighteenth birthday come along. However, it is important to recognize that graduations brings legal changes, according to the Grand Rapids Business Journal in “Give your graduate the gift of legal documents.”

Here are some recommended steps to take so parents can still be involved in their children’s lives when they are needed.  This phase can create a gray area, where both child and parent have certain expectations about parental involvement in their life that may be at odds with what the law says in that regard.  Not all of these tools may be needed for every family, but they are a representative sample of the types of things that can address the issues most commonly facing families today.

Health care proxy/medical power of attorney. Even if you are the person paying for health insurance, you are not legally permitted to make decisions on their behalf. Have your child sign a proxy/POA form designating who has the primary authority to make health decisions, if he or she is unable to do so. This is especially important when parents are divorced: both parents need to have the proper forms. Your estate planning attorney will be able to prepare these for you.  It has become commonplace for parents to be made aware that their son or daughter is sick by their children’s friends or roommates, but they are left unable to obtain any details.  This is particularly distressing when a child is attending school somewhere a great distance away.  If your child executes a medical power of attorney, it is absolutely critical that it comply in form and execution with all the rules of the state in which the child is living.

Durable power of attorney. If your child has signed a durable POA, you will be able to handle their financial matters, especially if your child becomes incapacitated.  Again, states have different rules about the form and manner of execution of these documents, so it is important to comply with all relevant laws.

HIPAA authorization. Medical providers may not disclose a patient’s medical status, unless they have legal permission. Your child should sign a HIPAA authorization with each of their providers, giving the parent access to all their information. This is especially necessary for a child with health or mental issues.  HIPAA releases are often contained within a state’s form for medical power of attorney, but double-check with your attorney to verify that this is the case.

FERPA waivers. This one takes many parents by surprise. Even if you are the one paying for tuition and all college expenses, the college will not provide academic records, including grades and tuition bills, due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Contact the college and find out exactly what forms they need to be sure you have access to all of your children’s information, including any health and mental health treatment. Most colleges provide waivers or authorizations to allow parents to access this information, but it is something to definitely double-check before you send your child off in the fall.  Graduation brings legal changes like these that sneak up on parents all the time.

Wills and trusts. If a child has assets and no descendants, they may need a will or revocable trust to protect the parent’s taxable estate and allow someone to manage these assets, if they die prematurely.  This is relatively uncommon, of course, but it is especially important where there may be significant wealth in a family, or where a family owns a significant amount of real estate.

Medical records. Make sure the child has access to their medical records, including medications, allergies, and particularly immunization records.  You can no longer sign a release to get these documents sent on your child’s behalf, so it can be very inconvenient to manage when a child is in school out of town.

Insurance. See if the family’s medical, homeowner’s and auto insurance coverage extend to a child living away at school and in another state. If the child is renting a house or apartment, make sure they have renter’s insurance.  If you are co-signing a lease, make sure that you understand all the terms within it.

Proof of identity. Make sure the child has access to their passport, birth certificate or Social Security card so they can get an internship or a job.  It is often wise to obtain a state-issued ID in addition to a drivers license for your child.  Have them kept in separate places, so that if one is lost, the other remains.

Bank accounts and credit cards. If the family’s regular bank does not have a branch where the child is attending school, the parents should consider opening a basic checking account at a local branch. Both parents and child should be on the account.

Registration. It’s time to register to vote and sons will need to register with Selective Service.  There are currently several proposals suggesting that young women may have to register at some point as well, so keep abreast of this story as it develops.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on the proper documents needed for your family.  Graduating and going off to college can be a challenging, whirlwind period.  Take some small part of this time to get the documents you need in place. Graduations brings legal changes, but there are simple tools to manage this change and let parents and children alike get back to more pressing daily matters.

Reference: grbj.com (June 7, 2019) “Give your graduate the gift of legal documents.”


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