Photo: Kardinia International College Students at Crazy Horse

Conversations to have while outfitting a college dorm room (or 3 important topics that could prove to be as important as paying tuition).

By Phil Shigo, Co-Founder GYST

I remember the day and the place where my parents dropped me off for my freshman year of college like it was yesterday.  The heat of the late afternoon sun.  Climbing five flights of stairs in Hedrick Hall to get the contents I’d packed into my parent’s station wagon up to my new 185 sq. ft. two person dorm room.  The fun of seeing my own possessions in a small shared space that would be sorta mine for the next 9 months, the awkward goodbye with my mother and the conversations we had that final Saturday evening before she and my father, began the 6 hour return drive to their home in Northern California.

Having survived 4 years of college (5 if you count the year I spent studying abroad), living  in a fraternity, mountain biking, learning to rock climb and now being a parent of 2 teenagers myself, I can appreciate the importance of all the things my parents were trying to do in those last few hours together before the start of college.

My parents were like most parents.  Hardworking people who tried to set good examples for their kids, offered guidance through high school, paid tuition and spent the last hours with me that final Saturday before the start of my Freshman year helping outfit my dorm room (and cleared their conscious of what could be their worst nightmare).

“Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves.” – Ernest Dimnet

Still a teenager in their eyes, they offered me their wisdom and figured they had done all they could do.  What they didn’t realize is that I was 18, a legal adult in the eyes of the law. (In most states, children become legal adults at age 18). No longer a legal minor.  My parents didn’t realize they wouldn’t have a right to basic information about my health or medical needs, or that they would be excluded from making important medical decisions on my behalf if I was injured while attending college on their dime.

Life insurance is crucial for parents to ensure your children are taken care of financially if you died prematurely.” – Natasha Cornelius

And no matter how uniformed I was, they wouldn’t be able to make financial decisions for me either.  Since parents of children who become legal adults, cannot have access to their son or daughters personal bank accounts unless they co-sign on the account.  (And thank goodness for me my parents couldn’t monitor that high interest rate credit card I’d been issued months into my freshman year – how else would I have purchased my bike).

Here are 3 simple medical-related estate planning documents parents of legal adults can have to stay involved with their son or daughters medical and financial life once once they drive the car away:

1. Living Will (or Advance Care Directive)

Children who are legal adults can appoint their parent as their health care decision maker by filling out a document called an Advance Care Directive (sometimes called Medical Power of Attorney). That way, legally adult children who become debilitated due to an accident or illness and can’t make their own health care decision, can have their parents make one on their behalf.  Learn about creating a living will.

Children attending college out-of-state, should have these documents drawn up by an attorney in the state where the college is located.  Many states combine a Medical Power of Attorney and a living will into a single document called an “Advance Health Care Directive.  Find documents for your state or get the advice of a professional estate planning attorney in the local area where your child is going to college.

2. HIPAA Release

HIPAA is the acronym for the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It basically helps maintain the privacy of an individual’s medical information.  As such, it is virtually impossible for parents to obtain any information about your college student’s medical diagnosis or prognosis unless your name is on his or her HIPAA Release form. Adult Children may want to add their parents to the form, too. Find a HIPPA release form  and review it with your doctor or find an estate planning attorney who can help.

3. Durable Power of Attorney

For parents who want stay involved in their Adult Child’s financial life once he or she leaves for college, it’s advisable to prepare a Durable Power of Attorney and designate which parent, will be their financial agent.  Parents designated as their adult child’s agent may be able to access their account should the need arise or their Adult Children becomes incapacitated (not to mention it will also be easier for parents to monitor their child’s smart phone, credit or debit card purchases. Learn more about how to share and store digital details.

There are 1,095 days before the start of my eldest teenager’s first day of college but, then who’s counting.

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