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Important documents parents and college students should sign.

If you have a child heading off to college, your primary focus may be helping them furnish their dorm room and ordering textbooks before the first day of class. But there’s another important task you could be overlooking.

Did you know that once your child turns 18, you might not have legal access to their records — from academic, to medical to financial — unless they give you permission? That means if something happens while they’re away from home, you might not be able to help them.

Start a conversation before your child leaves for college.

You may not have thought much about the fact that you’ve had access to your child’s personal records for all of their life. However, once they turn 18, you no longer have that access without their consent. Before your child turns 18, take time to talk about how their legal rights are changing, what it means and why it’s important. Explain that granting you permission to access certain information can give you both peace of mind, since you’ll be able to help and make decisions on their behalf in the event of an emergency.

You might face resistance from a young adult who is embracing independence and finds this intrusive. But you can use this conversation as an opportunity to discuss how you might use the access.

For instance, your child might find themselves hospitalized far away from home or unable to access their financial accounts. If certain paperwork isn’t signed in advance, you won’t be able to help them.

Important legal documents to sign before college (and their purpose).

Once you’ve talked about why it’s important to have these signed documents in place, consider preparing the following legal forms after your kids turn 18.

  • FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) waiver. Your child needs to sign this waiver before the college will give you access to information about your child’s school records, including grades, transcripts and disciplinary actions — even if you’re the one paying tuition. Most schools have the form available on their website.
  • HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Privacy Authorization form. This gives medical providers and facilities permission to share information related to your child’s health and treatment with any adult your child specifies. The form is available from healthcare providers.
  • Medical power of attorney, also known as a healthcare proxy. This lets your child designate someone (usually a parent or legal guardian) to make medical decisions on their behalf. This is necessary even if your child is on your health insurance plan. You can find forms online or contact an estate attorney to prepare this document and the two below.
  • Financial power of attorney lets your child designate someone (usually a parent or legal guardian) to make financial decisions on their behalf. This can also include accessing bank accounts, signing tax returns or renewing a car registration.
  • A living will lets your child specify their wishes for end-of-life care as well as organ and tissue donation. It’s a good idea to talk about this in advance and share copies of the living will with family members.

States may have their own version of the forms noted above, and some forms may need to be notarized. Be sure to save copies of all signed forms.

Other factors to consider before your child leaves for college.

  • If your child is going to school out-of-state, it might be necessary to prepare forms for both the home state and school state.
  • Be sure your child has health insurance coverage, a copy of their insurance card and access to their medical records. This is important for anyone turning 18, even if they’re not attending college. Some schools automatically enroll students in the school’s plan, so students may need to opt out if they already have health insurance.
  • Schedule medical and dental appointments before your child leaves for school, including annual checkups. Ensure that vaccinations are up to date, refill prescriptions and get copies so your child can fill them while they’re at school. Make sure kids know how to access their medical records in case they need care.
  • You may want to confirm whether your child’s belongings are covered under your homeowners insurance policy while they’re at school. If not, consider a renters insurance policy to protect their valuables like laptops and other items.

Helpful resources.

  • Your state’s website for specific forms
  • School website for specific forms

Taking steps like having a conversation and signing these important documents before your child leaves for school can be an important step on your student’s path toward becoming responsible and prepared as they continue to grow into adulthood. Plus, you’ll all gain peace of mind, making it easier for everyone to focus on the school year ahead.

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Commerce does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.
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