Back to School: Preparing for College Isn't Just About the Dorm Furniture

Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Back to School: Preparing for College Isn't Just About the Dorm Furniture

I was a wreck when my daughter Maddy went off to college three years ago. I had so many emotions about my oldest child, my first baby, leaving home and venturing out on her own. On the other hand, Maddy was so excited--without an apprehensive bone in her body. She was ready to start her college experience and for that I was grateful. But I had my concerns about her safety, her well-being, her ability to create her own structure with all that freedom, and all the other concerns that come with being the parent of a young adult.

Although Maddy was focused on how she was going to furnish her dorm room and what her roommate was going to be like, she was also looking forward to the adventures and challenges of college. The furthest thing from her mind was worst case scenarios and creating a plan for the what-ifs of adulthood. While the curtains and the rug and the mini fridge all have their place in planning for college life, so too does preparing documents that will protect you as a parent and them as an adult in the event of an emergency.

As parents who have always been the protector and the decision maker for our children, it can be easy to forget that, once a child turns 18, in the eyes of the law your child is an adult. What this means is that heaven forbid your child is rushed to the hospital, you will not have immediate access to your child’s medical information, nor will you have the ability to make medical decisions on their behalf. Without specific documentation, a medical provider is prohibited by law from disclosing your adult child’s information to you. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits medical providers from disclosing information not explicitly authorized by the patient. Although there is some wiggle room for medical providers to use their discretion in the event of an emergency, they may be reluctant to do so if they do not have an existing relationship with the patient or with their family.

Before Maddy went off to school, we sat down for an important conversation. I asked her to sign the appropriate forms naming me as her “agent” to handle matters for her in case anything catastrophic happened. It wasn’t the most cheerful of conversations, but it was an important one to have.

The following steps should be taken in advance to continue your legal authority in the event of an emergency. These forms are obtainable online or can be prepared for you by an attorney.  

Medical or Health Care Power of Attorney (“POA”)

Also known as a Health Care Proxy, a Medical Power of Attorney is signed by your child and it authorizes you to be an “agent” and make medical decisions on their behalf in case they are unable to make decisions for themselves. A good POA form should include a HIPAA disclosure authorization. The American Bar Association has a very useful Health Care Advanced Planning Toolkit which includes a POA form or you can have one prepared by an estate attorney. The laws governing Medical POAs vary from state to state and some states require two non-related witnesses or a notary public. In some cases, your child’s college may have a form as well.

HIPAA Authorization

If your Medical POA does not include a HIPAA authorization it will be vital to prepare this form as well. HIPAA authorizations allow health-care providers to give you information on your child’s health. These authorizations can include protections for children who do not wish to disclose information about sex, drugs, mental health or other details that they may, rightfully, wish to keep confidential. Fortunately, they will still give you disclosure rights in the event of an emergency if your child wants you to be privy to that information.

Durable Power of Attorney (“POA”)

This legal document authorizes you as the parent to act as your child’s “attorney-in-fact” or “agent” beyond the scope of a medical incapacitation. It allows the agent to legally take care of business on the child’s behalf which includes broad powers including entering into legal contracts and accessing bank accounts.

FERPA Release

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 was passed to protect the privacy of a student’s education records. This law prohibits parents from accessing a child’s grades or transcripts. By signing a release your child would allow their school to disclose education records to you without prior consent. For some parents who are paying tuition, it is important for them to know exactly how their child is performing in school. For others, this may be a bit extreme and the honor system could do just fine.

Saving your documents in a secure, electronic place where they are accessible via a smartphone or a computer is a safe bet. Original forms should be kept in a secure file for important documents.

So, while your child is picking out their computer and writing desk and you are holding on to the last days before they say goodbye, put some time aside to prepare these documents either yourself or with the help of an estate attorney. You’ll be glad you did.

About the Author

Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA

Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA

Kathy Longo brings over 25 years of expertise and experience to Flourish Wealth Management. Kathy is wholly dedicated to improving the life of each client and finds joy in making complex matters simple and easy to understand. She excels at asking the right questions, uncovering new possibilities and implementing the most advantageous strategies for success. Playing such a pivotal role in her clients’ lives remains an honor and a privilege. After earning a degree in Financial Planning and Counseling from Purdue University, she began her career at a small firm in Palatine, Illinois where she worked directly with clients while learning to build a viable, client-centric business. Over the years, she gained extensive knowledge and wisdom working as a wealth manager, financial planner, firm manager and business owner at notable, various sized companies in both Chicago and Minneapolis.

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