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What Parents of College-Age Children Need to Know

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

Do you have a high school or college student? Are you prepared for the unexpected? Will you be able to help your college student in a medical emergency? When your child reaches the age of 18, even though you may still think of them as children, they have now achieved adult status under the law:

  • You can no longer manage money for your children. 

  • You no longer automatically have access to their medical information, even if they are still covered by your health insurance and you are paying the bill.

  • If your child has an accident or illness and is temporarily disabled, you may need court approval to act on their behalf.

  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) says you no longer have access to your child’s grades once they turn 18, even though you’re the one signing the tuition checks.

Estate Planning Documents Most parents know — in theory, at least — that their children are no longer children when they turn 18. But the full significance may not be apparent until something happens that drives that reality home. The following forms will help facilitate the involvement of a parent or other trusted adult in a medical emergency:

  • HIPAA authorization: A signed HIPAA authorization allows an agent to gain access to medical information. This document alone, signed in advance by your child, will allow you, as parents, to get information from the hospital treating your child.

  • Medical power of attorney: In signing a medical POA, your child can appoint you, as an agent, to make medical decisions in case he or she is incapacitated and can't make such decisions on their own behalf.

  • Directive to physicians: This other type of advance directive specifies your child’s wishes with regard to life support under the circumstances set forth in the directive.

  • Durable power of attorney: As an additional step, your child might consider executing a durable power of attorney, enabling you or other designated agent to take care of business if he or she is incapacitated.

If a student attends college out of state, fill out the forms relevant to the home state and school state to avoid any challenges. Once the forms are completed, it’s a good idea to scan and save them so they're readily available on a smartphone or home computer.

School Records All students have the right to sign a waiver — and in most colleges it is as easy as clicking on a page on the school website — permitting parents access to their school records. It’s hard to balance when to allow your student the time and space necessary to adjust and when to check on their grade progress and behavioral changes to ensure everything is under control (and to make sure they know you’re not trying to be controlling—you just want them to be safe). Access to this information can be important since suicide is the second leading cause of death, after accidents, for college-age adults in the United States. One in five college students reported that they were so stressed that they considered suicide (reported by the journal Depression and Anxiety).

Emergencies Abroad What happens if your student has an emergency while out of the country? The following is a list of other items that you may want to address before you send them on that spring break trip to Mexico:

  • Get a passport. If you already have one, make sure it’s valid. You need to be prepared in case you have to go out of the country suddenly.

  • Get a copy of the rental agreement and research if there are any known accidents or unsafe conditions at the location. Safety standards can be very different abroad.

  • Check with your own insurance carrier to determine if they cover medical treatment and hospital care outside of the United States or medical evacuation.

  • Make sure you have a credit card with a high spending limit. Your child may not be able to leave the hospital without leaving a substantial down payment.

  • Check out your phone’s international coverage. Make sure your cell phone coverage includes international cell service or know how to add that to your existing plan, and make sure your traveling child has the access as well. 

  • Have other phone numbers for other parents and their friends in case your child loses their phone.  

What to Do Now Having a conversation with your child about their rights and responsibilities when they turn 18 is a good first step.  For example, all males with United States citizenship must register for the selective service upon reaching the age of 18. Although not required, this is a great time for your kids to register to vote. Have faith and pray. Never underestimate the power of prayer. Practice gratitude. Each day is a gift. Be grateful for each and every day you have with them. As I navigate having a student in college, this seems like the very best advice! by JoAnne Wallace McIntosh.

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