If your child has just graduated high school, you are probably savoring this last summer together before sending your child to college. (Or you may be ticking the days off the calendar and offering to help them pack!)
College is the beginning of adulthood for many young adults. And while your child may be dreaming of the more enjoyable aspects of adulthood, like increased independence, your job is to introduce them to one of the mundane, but very important, parts of being an adult: planning for contingencies.
It can be hard, and may seem strange, to talk about issues like illness, and even death at such a happy time. But the reality is that each year, about 250,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 end up in the hospital for reasons ranging from car accidents to alcohol poisoning to the flu. That's not a trivial number. If your child is one of them, you'll be relieved to have planned in advance.
There are two primary types of durable powers of attorney: for healthcare, and for finances. Both are important. A DPOA for healthcare means that if your child is ill or injured and incapable of making their own medical decisions, you can make those decisions on their behalf. You have made medical decisions for your child their whole life, so doing so seems natural to you. But legally, once they turn 18, you no longer have that authority. Creating a DPOA for health care will allow you to continue to make treatment decisions for them—but only if they are incapable of doing so.
A durable financial power of attorney means that if your child is legally incapacitated and unable to take care of their financial matters, you can seamlessly step in and do that for them until they are able. A DPOA for finances allows you to receive and pay your child's bills and access their financial accounts, including managing any student loans they have taken out.
Your estate planning attorney can easily help you put these documents, and others, in place so they will be there if and when you need them.
Again, you may be accustomed to being able to know almost everything that is going on in your child's life, but college (and legal adulthood) has a way of changing that. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) now comes into play. FERPA was enacted to protect the privacy of college students. Unfortunately, it can have the effect of keeping parents on the outside when they need to know what is going on with their child. Talk to your child about what they would want you to be able to access, including their grades, their financial aid information, and other education records, and have them execute a FERPA release so that you can get that information when needed.
For years, you have been making medical decisions for your child and receiving information directly from their care providers. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) protects patient privacy, including the privacy of your newly-minted adult. Therefore, you will want your child to execute a HIPAA authorization form so that the university and other care providers can share medical information with you as needed.
Your child can choose to limit the type of information that is shared (for instance, they can specify that you will not have access to counseling records) but make sure that you will have access to the information you need to act under a healthcare power of attorney.
Most colleges and universities require that students have certain vaccinations in order to enroll. But there are some vaccinations that, while not required, can be very beneficial or even lifesaving. These include the vaccines against human papilloma virus (HPV) and Meningitis B, the latter of which can be fatal. Talk to your child about getting these before they head off to school. Likewise, consider getting your child a flu shot before they head off to school. Many people get the flu shot later in the fall, but it is usually available as early as August. Your child may intend to get it at school, but find that he or she is "too busy" until the day they are actually sidelined with the flu.
In addition to vaccinations, consider taking your child for dental and other checkups before school starts so that they don't find themselves in need of treatment three weeks into the semester with no access to their regular dentist or doctor.
No, not the one about the birds and the bees—the one about mental health. College is an exciting new experience, but it can also be a very stressful one. Particularly if your child is going to college far from home, they may find themselves without their usual support system just when they need it most.
You might think that your child is outgoing and well-adjusted, and that he or she might not experience serious mental health issues, and hopefully, you are right. But too many parents, and students, are blindsided by the depression and anxiety that often strike when young adults are out on their own for the first time. The reality is that the age when mental health issues first start to appear is also the age at which young people are first moving out on their own.
The 2014 College Health Assessment found that nearly half of all college students felt hopeless at some point within the previous year, and nearly a third felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function. Identify mental health services on and near campus and make sure you encourage your child, explicitly, to access them as needed.
If you need help preparing or updating any documents before your child heads off to college, please feel free to contact our law office this summer or at any time.
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