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The 3 Must-Have Legal Documents for College Students

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Did you recently celebrate your child's high school graduation? Congratulations! It’s an exciting time with lots to plan for and consider. Now that your child is 18 and likely headed off on their own, there are important legal matters to address.

A parent's job is never done and parenting gets even more complicated when kids head off to college. Most of those heading off to school are 18-year-olds and legal adults, which means parents are no longer automatically entitled to their child's medical and educational records, or to make decisions on their behalf. That can pose a problem while kids (excuse me, "adults") are away at college or in a medical emergency. This can be avoided by taking some proactive steps before your child's move-in weekend at college.

Knowing which documents to complete, and when, is essential to ensuring that you have access to your child in an emergency and the information you need, when you need it.

The 3 Must-Have Legal Documents

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The 3 must-have legal documents for your college student are: (1) a medical power of attorney; (2) a durable general power of attorney; and (3) a HIPAA Authorization. In addition, there are several other forms that a student may complete which give parents access to his/her educational record. Completion of these extra forms, which are sometimes university-specific, can save you both time and effort when requesting your child's records in the future.

The Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney is a legal document that grants someone ("the agent") the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of another person ("the principal") if the principal becomes unable to make decisions due to incapacity or inability to communicate.

In this context, the agent is typically a trusted parent, family member, or friend who is aware of the student's healthcare preferences and can advocate for their best interests (just as you have been doing for the last 18 years). The medical power of attorney allows the agent to make decisions regarding medical treatment options, healthcare providers, and end-of-life care based on the student's previously expressed wishes or best interests. This document ensures continuity of care and allows for timely decision-making when the student is unable to participate actively in their own healthcare.

The Durable General Power of Attorney

A general power of attorney (POA) is a legal document through which the principal grants authority to an agent to act on his or her behalf in legal, financial, or other matters. Here are a few reasons why you should consider talking to your college student about obtaining a power of attorney:

  • Financial Management:

If a college student is studying in a different city or state than their parents or guardians, it can be challenging to manage financial matters effectively. With a power of attorney, the student's agent can handle tasks such as paying bills, managing bank accounts, signing documents, or accessing funds on the student's behalf.

  • Access to Student's Academic Status and Grades (this is a biggie):

Parents' access to son's or daughter's grades end at age 18

In general, parents do not have automatic access to their child's grades in college. Once a student reaches college or university level, they are considered adults and have increased privacy rights. Educational institutions typically adhere to strict privacy laws, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy of students' educational records. Under FERPA, colleges and universities are required to obtain written consent from students before releasing their educational records to anyone, including parents. This means that unless the student explicitly provides permission, parents cannot access their child's grades, academic progress, or other educational information directly from the institution. Having a power of attorney document in place, in which the student expressly grants his or her agent the authority to access this information is a painless way to solve this problem.

  • Studying Abroad:

If a college student plans to study abroad, they may face challenges related to managing finances or handling legal matters (think VISAs and Passports) and apartment rental issues. Granting a power of attorney to a trusted individual can facilitate smoother management of these affairs while the student is away.

It's important to note that the power of attorney should be given to someone the student trusts implicitly, such as a parent, guardian, or close family member. The agent should be responsible, reliable, and capable of making decisions in the student's best interests.

The HIPAA Authorization

The primary purpose of a HIPAA authorization is to grant permission for the disclosure of an individual's protected health information (PHI) to specified individuals or entities. In our context, it allows healthcare providers, insurers, and other covered entities to share your student's medical information with designated individuals, such asyou, family members or friends, or with other healthcare providers involved in the student's care. It is often used in situations where there is a need to share medical information temporarily or on a limited basis, such as during a specific medical procedure or while the individual is incapacitated.

Getting this Done Simply & Quickly

Patricia Wood law offers a College Kit at a fixed, flat rate. This package includes a durable general power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and a HIPAA authorization. Schedule a quick 30-minute virtual appointment online for your recent graduate or call (804) 297-2742. Your son or daughter will have their documents in hand within three business days.

Patricia Wood Law - Estate Planning


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