Five Legal Documents to Consider before Your Child Leaves for College:

So, your child is heading off to college.  What an exciting time for them and for you!  While we have many hopes and dreams for our children as they take their next step in independence, we of course worry about a number of things we know they probably aren’t even considering.  While you may still be thinking of them as your children, they are (likely) 18 and therefore legally responsible for themselves.  Put your mind at ease (a little) by getting these documents in order before your child leaves.  Hopefully, you will never need to use any of them but I know I have slept better knowing these are all in place.

The list below includes important legal documents and other papers and resources you should consider having in place before your student leaves.   Please note that I am not an attorney or financial planner so please seek advice from a professional, especially if your student will be attending school out of state.  Some of these forms may need to be executed in the state in which your child attends school.  Also, some of these forms will require a notary, so completing these forms is not something to leave for the night before your student leaves. 

Your child leaving for college is a challenging time filled with many conflicting emotions.  Hopefully, we have taught (or are still teaching) them to be independent, responsible adults but there may be times when they will still need our assistance.  Since they are no longer minors, these documents are necessary for us to step in when necessary.  You may choose to not complete any or some of these forms.  For example, some families choose not to ask their child to sign a FERPA waiver – their grades are theirs and families instead encourage open communication regarding expectations and responsibilities.  Same for HIPAA authorization.  Personally, I think it is nice to have these forms signed, even if you never use the access permitted.  I have never checked my children’s grades in college as we prefer to discuss these topics when necessary, but should a medical or mental health issue arise where our child would like us to help navigate or we feel we’d need to intervene with the college (Dean of Students, professors) and/or medical professionals, it is nice to have these documents already in place.

FERPA waiver- FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act) protects your student’s education records.  Now that your student is likely 18, they are the only ones who can access their educational information.  Yes, that means that even though you may be paying for college (and colleges happily provide access to their financial portal so you can pay your bill), you have no access to their grades unless your child grants you access.  In addition to grades, if your child should have a situation (medical, mental health, academic support) in which they would need or would like your help navigating, you will need this form to talk with anyone at the school regarding your student’s academics.  Check with your child’s college, as each one handles it a bit differently, to gain access.  Most have a form online that the student can sign to give you access.  Some colleges offer webinars for incoming students and will cover this information or will email necessary documents or provide links.  Be sure to ask your student to complete this waiver and any others the college may require.

HIPAA authorization – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects your child’s medical records (yes, even from you), even if they are covered on your health insurance.   It is best to have this form in place before there is an emergency and perhaps include a family member or close family friend who is geographically close to where your student is in school, G-d forbid there should be a major emergency.   This is a good time to make sure, also, that your student has you and other trusted adults listed as ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts in their phone.  If your student sees any doctors or urgent care centers/hospitals while at school, encourage them to list you as someone who can have access to the records as well.

Health care proxy/Health Care Power of Attorney/Durable Medical Power of Attorney – This document allows you as the parent to act as the medical agent for your child, should they become incapacitated.  Hopefully you will never need this but you certainly don’t want to be fighting with hospital staff in the unfortunate event that your child has an emergency that would require you to make decisions for them.  This document usually only needs a witness signature in addition to yours and your child’s and is generally portable from state to state. 

Living Will/Advanced Directive – If your child does not have one, this is probably a good time to discuss a living will or advanced directive, for the same reasons list above.   This document helps those making medical decisions understand the student’s wishes regarding DNR, other medical interventions, and end of life wishes.  This form may also require a witness. 

General Durable Power of Attorney – This form covers all non-health related legal and financial decisions and actions that a parent might need to handle on behalf of their student.  This is also probably a good time to ask your student to add you as an authorized person to their bank account, credit card accounts, etc.  While the power of attorney will allow access, it may take some time to get that access.  That won’t help when your child is running into a mid-term or final and realizes their ATM card has been compromised (it’s happened to us!). If you are authorized on their account, you can handle it for them immediately.

Your child should keep a card in their wallet that specifies that they have these documents (especially a living will, health care proxy, HIPAA authorization and power of attorney), summarizes key provisions (e.g., DNR and DNI) and indicates where the original documents can be found. (Mark Kantrowitz, Legal Documents for Students Who are Headed to College,

Protecting your student’s belongings:  Sometimes, your student’s belonging are covered by your homeowner’s policy, especially if they are living in the residence halls owned by the college.  If not, renter’s insurance is very reasonably priced the for the small amount of belongings students have with them at college.  I have found the insurance brokers to be very knowledgeable and helpful, especially if located near the school.

Other things to consider:  Make sure your student has a copy of their health insurance card and understands the information on it.  Also, it is helpful to establish contact with a doctor off campus before one is needed.  Alternatively, make sure your student has a list of the closest urgent care centers once the student arrives – yes, I have gotten the phone call from my miserable-feeling child explaining that they have a fever of 104, can’t swallow, it is pouring and cold outside and the campus health center is so overrun that they can’t see my child for three days.  That list would have come in handy then – luckily I was available and could drop what I was doing to help my daughter find an urgent care that didn’t have a tremendous wait.

Keep a copy of your student’s driver’s license and passport at home and make sure the student has a copy they keep separate from the originals at school.  A small safe with some cash, an emergency credit card, a few days’ worth of medication, passport, and a list of essentials you might need to pack quickly is essential.  My daughter’s school in New Orleans urges students to have a small “go bag” ready (with many of the items listed above) should they need to be evacuated quickly in the event of flooding or a bad storm.  As we learned this spring, a go-bag is important for students in any location.  Many parents have also recommended having a quarantine bag ready to go – a couple changes of comfy clothes, some things to entertain your student (cards, coloring book, etc), and a list of everything they might need for 2 weeks – medications, clothes, electronics and cords, and school work.  That way a trusted friend or roommate can pack a bag for your student if they end up quarantined.  As we learned this past spring trying to get two students home from their respective colleges quickly, it can’t hurt to do some research on storage facilities near campus and make a plan for which you will use (and have a back-up) if they need to store their stuff and leave campus quickly. FYI, U-Haul allows students over 18 with a valid driver’s license to rent vans.  And some car rental agencies will waive or reduce young driver fees if you are a AAA member or one of their elite club members.

Overall, these may not be the discussions or activities you had planned for your student’s last few weeks at home but they are important conversations to have with your adult child and they will open the lines of communication and set expectations for their next step toward independence and “adulting.  Whatever you decide as a family, sleep better knowing you have had the conversation.