With all the paperwork now out of the way, you can finally breathe, right?
Surprisingly, you couldn’t be more wrong…
Perhaps more important than anything else on the college readiness checklist is the completion of the following three (arguably four) legal documents. However, once you’ve drafted the papers, dotted your (and your child’s) i’s and crossed all the t’s, you’ll then truly be ready to rock and roll!
HIPAA Authorization For College Students
We never stop worrying about our children’s health—be they five or fifty. However, once our children turn eighteen, we as parents no longer have the right to receive their medical information – regardless if they are covered under our health insurance and even if we happen to be footing the bill!
It is pertinent that all adult children (not just college students) complete the HIPAA authorization form. Named for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), this form authorizes medical care providers to release and share the student’s general medical information (such as diagnoses, medications, and test results) to the parents (or other designated individuals). Without it, health providers are legally prohibited from sharing this information.
Where to find the form? Check to see if the school has the HIPAA authorization forms online. If your student will attend college out of state, fill out the forms relevant to your home state and the school’s state to avoid any disputes; if the school form has a form, sign that one too for good measure. If your health insurance covers your students, check in with the insurance company to see what other, if any, processes need to be covered—in state, out-of-state, and even abroad.
Health-care Proxy or Medical Power of Attorney and a Living Will
A medical power of attorney, also known as a health-care proxy, gives parents permission to make medical decisions if their student is physically unable to do so.
Although it is extremely uncomfortable and unsettling to discuss such situations with your child beforehand, don’t find out too late that your student has been admitted to a hospital and you’re not authorized to discuss treatment plans or make emergent decisions regarding care.
On the same token, it’s recommended that adult children also have a living will, aka an advance care directive, which outlines a person’s wishes about life-extending medical treatment, as well as other intentions, such as organ donations. This document takes effect when the doctor declares that the patient lacks the capacity to make their own health care decisions.
While a lawyer may assist with these documents, they are not required to do so. Most states only require that an adult (typically 18) be competent when the document is created.
Additionally, if the student is attending college out of state, a health-care proxy may be needed for both the home state and the state where the child attends college. Free forms by state for both the health-care proxy and durable power of attorney (see below) can be found online.
Durable General Power of Attorney For College Students
Once your child turns eighteen, their finances also become private. A durable power of attorney allows the parent access, in the event their child becomes incapacitated, to their bank accounts or credit cards.
Absent a crisis, a power of attorney grants parents the authority to sign documents for their child, (which is particularly helpful if students go abroad), as well as renew the child’s car registration or file a tax return on their behalf.
Similar to the health-care proxy, lawyers are not needed to draft a durable power of attorney, but a legal professional can simplify an often daunting process.
FERPA Waiver For College Students
Of the four documents discussed, FERPA is one that is more of a personal preference rather than a necessity. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 was designed to protect the privacy of educational records, establish the rights of students to inspect and review their educational records, and it also provides control over the release of educational record information, as well as financial information.
Once a student turns eighteen, or attends school beyond secondary school, the rights of access to all the student’s records—including GPA, academic transcript, academic warning, academic probation, or discipline records—transfer to the student. Without specific, written permission from the student, parents are not privy to the information.
This privacy is extended as well for financial information at any postsecondary institutions that receive funding from the federal government.
Records created and maintained by the financial aid office are considered to be education records and may not be disclosed without the student’s consent. This includes (minimally): eligibility and disbursement of federal student aid funds, financial aid applications, federal work-study payroll records, your student’s account, and financial aid history information.
All colleges and universities have FERPA release authorizations that when signed by the student, allows the school to disclose specific information regarding student financial aid records.
It is important to note if a parent can prove that the student is a “dependent” on the parent’s most recent year’s income tax statement, the school may non-consensually disclose the eligible student’s records to the parents.
All in all, the sharing of student academic and financial information with parents is a family issue and rather, provides an opportunity for families to communicate with one another about expectations and the student’s responsibilities. If your student does sign FERPA waivers, parents will still need to request the information as they will not automatically be sent to them.
Once all the forms are prepared and signed, scan and save them so that they are readily available online and on a mobile device, or to be printed out on a home computer.
Most importantly, families should share an open dialogue about privacy and agree what scenarios these documents would be used. As with many aspects of the future college experience, increased communication ensures a smoother experience for everyone.
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