What to Do Before Your Kid Heads Off to College

Latest Articles

A friend of ours refers to college as “training wheels adulthood.” Your kids may be living apart from you, choosing their own companions and schedule, and managing their day-to-day lives, but they still depend on you for a lot—like advice and, probably, some financial support.

With your kids still tied to you in many ways, it’s easy to feel like not too much has changed about your parent-child relationship. That’s especially true if your child is still living at home while they attend college. But the reality is that once your child turns 18, a lot does change, because they have become a legal adult.

And whether they wake up on their eighteenth birthday in a dorm room, their childhood bedroom, or an apartment off-campus, certain powers you had the day before have evaporated forever.

What Does Legal Adulthood Mean?

As a legal adult, your child has the authority to make their own legal, financial, and medical decisions. They can go out and apply for a credit card, enter into contracts, even get married without your permission or input.

Of course, your child probably would still consult you about any major decisions. The problem arises in the event that they can’t. As an adult, your child has a right to privacy. As such, unless they specifically give you permission to be involved in your business, you could be shut out of it.

How that often looks is something like this: a young adult goes to college a few hours from home. They get in a car accident and get knocked unconscious, or overindulge at a party and pass out with alcohol poisoning. The hospital is not allowed to give you any specifics of your child’s decision because your child has not authorized it.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: your child just has to take some simple steps before there’s a crisis. But they probably have no idea that they should—so once again, your guidance will need to come into play.

Adulting 101: Be Prepared

At some point, “adult” became a verb meaning “to act like a responsible adult.” Adulting means paying bills on time, grocery shopping (and buying healthy ingredients, not just junk food), doing the laundry and actually putting it away.

Adulting also means being prepared for life’s contingencies, like a flat tire—or a medical emergency. Being prepared means having necessary planning documents in place. Here’s what your child needs before they head off to college (or the military, or a job, or a gap year).

Medical Power of Attorney/Patient Advocate Designation

Possibly the most important planning document for your young adult to sign before heading out into the world is a medical or health care power of attorney, known as a Patient Advocate Designation (PAD) in Michigan.

A PAD is a type of advance directive that allows someone to designate another person (their “patient advocate”) to make medical decisions for them if they can’t make decisions for themselves. It also allows them to express their medical preferences, and authorize the patient advocate to receive their medical information.

This document doesn’t allow you to snoop into whether your child is getting birth control at the campus health service. But it does allow you to step in and make the medical decisions they would want a parent to make in an emergency. Hopefully, they will never need this document—but if they do, you’ll all be grateful to have it.

HIPAA Release

If your child sees a specific health care provider with whom it’s important that you communicate, they will also need to sign a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release with that provider if they want them to communicate with you. As with a FERPA release, your child can limit what information is available to you.

Durable Power of Attorney

A durable financial power of attorney allows you to manage your child’s financial affairs if they can’t. It allows you to do things like pay their debts or collect debts owed to them, file their taxes, do their banking, and in general, interact with financial institutions on their behalf. The word “durable” means that the document remains valid even if your child becomes legally incapacitated—which is when you would probably need to use it.

A financial power of attorney is often “springing,” meaning the designated agent has no power unless and until the principal (your child, in this case) becomes incapacitated. But it doesn’t have to be. If your child is a legal adult but lacks the time or maturity to manage your finances, a financial power of attorney allows you to help. Just make sure you keep educating your child and moving them toward financial responsibility.

Simple Will

This is the hardest document to talk about, since it raises the specter of your child dying before you. As with the other documents, it’s unlikely that your child’s last will and testament will be needed, but it’s still important. Most new adults don’t have a lot of assets, so they don’t need a complicated estate plan. A simple will is sufficient.

A will dictates who your child would want to be in charge of their estate, most likely (but not necessarily) a parent. It also allows them to dictate who would receive their property in the event of their death.

FERPA Release

There are also other documents that your child should execute so that you can have the information you need. If they are going to college, they will want a FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) release, which will enable you to have access to their records. That includes things like grades or transcripts, course schedules, financial and billing statements, housing records, and disciplinary records. Your child can choose to limit what information you have access to.

To learn more about helping your child prepare to head out into the world while keeping you (appropriately) connected, contact Estate Planning & Elder Law Services to schedule a consultation.

Related Articles