Now is the time many families look forward to the storied day when they send their children off to college. It is a time to celebrate, as the child and the family have all worked hard toward this goal. Often, in this hopeful and hectic time, lost among the campus tours, class schedules, text books, and clothes shopping, is the idea that there are legal issues that merit consideration, particularly if your child is 18 or older. Parents of adult children do not have the same rights to grades and other academic information, or to make medical or financial decisions. Proper legal planning for these issues can be hard to address but the peace of mind it brings may well be worth it.
- Will – Thinking about the possible death of your adult child is undoubtedly difficult but is a matter that needs discussing, particularly if he or she owns significant assets outright. If your adult child were to die without a will, laws of intestacy would determine the distribution of his or her estate. If your adult child has no children of his or her own, in most states the estate would then pass upward to the parents, which may wreak havoc on their estate plan.
- Power of Attorney – Statistically, young men are approximately 32%, and young women 147%, more likely to become disabled than die. Still, if planning for the possible death of a young person is uncommon, planning for possible disability of one is almost unheard of. If your adult child is the victim of an unfortunate incident resulting in disability, or less tragic, studying abroad, and unable to manage his or her financial affairs, a durable power of attorney can save the time and expense of having a guardian and/or conservator appointed by a court, and allow the nominated parent (or other person) to take care of things like banking, paying bills, and filing taxes.
- Advanced Directive – As a power of attorney allows the student to designate someone to handle financial affairs, an advanced directive, sometimes called a living will, allows the designation of a person to handle medical decisions and to carry out your child’s wishes regarding life support, ‘heroic measures,’ and the like.
- Insurance – Health – Many college students are included in their parents’ health care coverage and recent reforms allow this until the student graduates from college or turns 26. If your child is not covered on your policy, check with the college or university, as many offer low-cost plans themselves or have arrangements with insurers that could benefit your child. Car – If your child isn’t taking a car to college, think twice before automatically removing him or her from your auto policy. When your child returns home for visits, will he or she be driving your car? What if, while away at school, your child is asked to be the designated driver for a group of friends? Talk to your auto policy representative about your options. Property – What if your child’s laptop is stolen from the dorm? Talk to your homeowner’s insurance representative about protecting your child’s personal belongings.
- FERPA (The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) – Gone are the days when parents had unfettered access to their children’s academic records. FERPA explicitly prevents a student’s information from being released without his or her permission. There are exceptions but parents should check with the college or university regarding its FERPA policies and consider asking their children to sign a FERPA release authorizing parents to view the student’s academic records.
For informational purposes only and not to be relied upon as legal advice.
by Brook D. Wood
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