Why College Parents Should Consider Getting Power of Attorney
Please note: The following is general information regarding power of attorney and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Please contact an attorney in your area to discuss your specific situation and to learn more about the process.
Two years ago, my son was at home during Spring Break when he became very ill. I rushed him to the emergency room, confident he would get the care he needed since he was still covered under my insurance plan. What never crossed my mind was whether I would have the right to know about his condition or even provide direction in his care. I was paying the bill, so I assumed I would have full disclosure just as I did when he was in high school; I totally missed the mark on that one. Although the hospital was more than happy to take my credit card for payment, it could not release any information about my son’s test results or treatment. In the eyes of the law, he was now an adult. So, there I sat for days, wondering what was wrong with my son and hoping he would soon recover. Luckily, he did pull through and was released a few days after classes had resumed on campus.
The experience in the hospital illuminated how little I could do for my son, now that he was a legal adult. I tried to contact his school, to get a list of his professors and let them know he was in the hospital, but that information was not available to me without power of attorney. I could not approve or decline tests at the hospital, nor could I get specific information on his condition. As a parent, it’s hard to come to grips with the fact that our children are no longer ‘kids’ when they head off to college, especially if we are the ones footing the bill. We feel a sense of entitlement to know what is going on in their lives and in their education. I’m not talking about those crazy helicopter parents, who stalk their child’s every move or constantly harass the college administration for grade updates, but a little information would have been nice. If you have a child heading to college this fall, here are a few reasons why you might want to consider getting power of attorney before he/she leaves.
1. Medical Emergency
I never thought about what would happen if my child became gravely ill or had a serious accident, but things happen and it’s important to have a plan in place to deal with these situations. Sit down and have a serious discussion with your child about organ donation, extreme care (life support) and other medical concerns to determine what he/she would want in terms of care during a medical emergency. It may be wise to have a living will or healthcare directive created, as well as getting a medical power of attorney, otherwise known as a "durable power of attorney for health care." Depending on the laws in your state, you can be authorized to make medical decisions at any time or only after your child is incapacitated. Most hospitals offer free forms, so check with your local medical center for more information.
2. Study Abroad
If your child is planning to spend a few weeks, a semester, or an entire year abroad, you definitely should consider getting a durable power of attorney for finances. This will make it easier for you to take care of tasks for your child, such as renewing his/her car tag or license, completing financial transactions at his/her bank, filing and paying taxes, and even representing your child in court, if needed. If your child runs into issues with his/her passport or the authorities in another country, you can rest easy knowing you have the authority to help. Be sure to check with your child’s financial institution to see if it requires a specific form, as this can help expedite the process. You can find free forms online or speak with an attorney in your area to learn more.
Even if you are paying for your child’s education, under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), colleges may not release student information, including grades, to individuals other than the student. Depending on your relationship with your child, you may want to ask him/her to give written consent to the college allowing you to access to his/her grades or information on his/her class schedule. If I had discussed this with my son prior to his illness, I could have easily contacted his professors and notified them of his condition. Don’t be surprised if your child is hesitant about giving up his/her right to privacy though, as he/she may only want you to have access on a need-to-know basis. Sit down and discuss why you want access to your child’s records, but remember it is ultimately your child’s decision.
There are tons of articles on what your child should bring with him/her to college, how to decide on a major, and even how to deal with a new roommate, but nobody ever talks about what happens when things go wrong. Before your child heads off to college this fall, sit down and create a plan for handling medical emergencies and other unexpected obstacles. You’ll be glad you did.