Congratulations! Your child has been accepted into college and will potentially be moving out of your family home in the next few months. During this time of excitement and, perhaps sadness, don’t forget that the law no longer recognizes you as your child’s legal guardian. In fact, unless you prepare in advance, you may not even have a right to be informed about your child’s health or financial status.
Under most state laws, children are no longer considered minors when they turn 18 years old. At that age, they assume all control over their actions and decisions, and parents are relieved of all their legal responsibilities to them. While this does not necessarily mean that a parent will cut loose their 18-year-old child and stop paying for the child’s expenses, it does mean that parents will no longer be privy to the child’s personal information unless that child first provides the parents with permission to see and access that information.
Rather than being left in the dark should your child become ill and/or unable to manage his or her medical care or finances, parents should seek the counsel of professional advisors and ensure that they have in place the following documentation.
If you want to speak with your child’s doctor about his or her medical condition or care, you must have the child sign a blanket HIPAA authorization allowing you to do so. Without this form, you will not have a right to receive information about your child’s care, even if he or she is hospitalized and unable to communicate with you directly. Instead, all information about your child’s medical care will be left in the hands of the hospital or physician providing care.
Similarly, you should check with your child’s college to determine their requirements for releasing student’s medical information. Oftentimes, they will have their own forms that you will need to complete.
In order for you to have the authority to make medical decisions on your child’s behalf, you must also have in place a signed healthcare power of attorney, also known as a healthcare proxy. This is especially important if your children become mentally or physically unable to make decisions on their own. No one wants to think about worst-case-scenarios but, the reality is, they do happen, and it’s better to be prepared.
Along the same lines, families may want to consider discussing end-of-life decisions and drafting living wills to spell out the decisions regarding the kind of healthcare their college-age children’s want, or do not want, in the event the children become incapacitated.
Both you and your child should have copies of all HIPAA authorizations, medical release forms and healthcare proxies for both your state and the state where your child is living to expedite your ability to respond to unanticipated events.
For many young adults, their transition to college represents the first time that they will manage their finances and live within a well-defined budget. In addition to college tuition and fees, students may also be responsible for monthly rent, utilities, car insurance premiums and/or credit card charges. Missing just one payment can put a significant dent in your child’s credit, and a habit of nonpayment can lead to far more serious consequences. For these reasons alone, it is important that parents execute a financial power of attorney allowing them to access their children’s financial information and step in, as needed, to prevent an issue from turning into a much larger problem. In addition, having a financial power of attorney in place allows the parent to sign for and make financial decisions about assets, such as cars and bank accounts, in the event a child becomes physically or mentally unable to make decisions, or in the event they are out of the country studying abroad.
Sending a child off to college is a rite of passage that signifies your child’s first taste of true independence and his or her transition into adulthood. Advance planning under the guidance of experienced advisors can help to prepare both parents and children for an uncertain future.
About the Author: Scott Montgomery, CLU®, ChFC®, is a director with Provenance Wealth Advisors, an Independent Registered Investment Advisor affiliated with Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants, and a registered representative with Raymond James Financial Services. For more information, call (954) 712-8888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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