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Going to college – do you have your legal docs in a row?

For several years we have added to our summer blog a reminder about getting legal documents ready for college.  This year our firm has two employees and children of two others graduating from high school (and one from college!) Congratulations Brantley, Caroline, Elizabeth, Lawson and Morgan!  While this year’s graduation was not the one you (or your families envisioned), it is exciting and a huge accomplishment. We are all so very proud of each of you.

It is also time to offer the same advice: get your legal documents ready before leaving for college. Once a student turns 18, there are a few legal documents she needs to have in place:

  1. Durable Power of Attorney: Once a student turns 18, finances become private and banks/credit card companies will not speak to the parent unless the student consents.  This document allows the parent to communicate with these financial institutions as well as do certain things (filing a tax return, renewing automobile registrations, etc.) Consider listing both parents/guardians as primary so that either one is able to act on the student’s behalf.
  2. Medical Power of Attorney: This document allows the student to name a parent or trusted family member/friend to make medical decisions on her behalf if the student is unable to do so.  The last thing a parent wants is to find out her child is in the hospital and is unable to make emergency care decisions.
  3. HIPAA Release: Like the Medical Power of Attorney, health care providers cannot release medical records without consent.  To make an informed decision for care or treatment, the student should sign a HIPAA release allowing access.  Along with the Medical Power of Attorney, consider listing more than one person on this document as primary- when every second matters, make sure the doctors have several names they can contact so that someone will be able to step in and help.
  4. Directive to Physicians (optional): The Directive to Physicians (living will) outlines someone’s wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment should the person lack capacity to make those decisions.  If one is not signed, then the Medical Power of Attorney can make this decision on the student’s behalf. While uncomfortable, it is important to discuss this idea with your student so you, as the parent, know what her wishes are in this regard.  She may want to sign this document or she may leave the decision to you- either way, have this conversation.
  5. FERPA Form: While we recommend the student completes the forms above, this one is a matter of preference.  In 1974, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was enacted – it aimed to protect educational records and establish students’ rights to inspect and review their educational records, as well as financial information. Once a student turns 18 or goes to college, the parent’s rights to access the student’s records (including records for grades, warnings, probation and discipline) are transferred to the student.  Note that even if a student signs a FERPA waiver, the authorized parent will have to request the information- it will not be sent automatically. Most colleges have a version of this form on their website.

We offer a “College Pack” for young adults which includes FERPA Waiver, HIPAA Authorization, Statutory Durable Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney and Medical Directive to Physicians (“Living Will”). Let us know if we can assist you or answer any questions.


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