Legal Documents for Students Who Are Headed to College

Mark KantrowitzBy Mark KantrowitzBy Savingforcollege.com

Before your child crosses through the ivy-covered gates on the start of their college journey, there are a bunch of legal documents you might need. These documents include a FERPA waiver, HIPAA authorization, health care proxy, living will and a general power of attorney. It’s also a good idea to review your health insurance and homeowner’s insurance policies to make sure your child is covered.

FERPA Waiver

Even though you’re paying the college bills, you don’t automatically have the right to see your child’s education records, such as grade reports, health records and disciplinary actions. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) transfers the rights accorded to parents from the parents to the student when the student reaches age 18 or attends a college or university.

There are a few exceptions in which the student’s prior written consent is not required:

  • If the disclosure is to parents who list the child as a dependent student on their federal income tax return. The child must be under age 23, unmarried, live with the taxpayer for more than one half of the tax year, and not provide more than one half of their own support for the calendar year in which the tax year begins.
  • If the disclosure is in connection with a health or safety emergency and the disclosure is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.
  • If the disclosure is in regard to the student’s violation of any Federal, State or local law, or college rules, concerning the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance, and the student is under age 21.

However, it is best to have the child sign a FERPA Waiver to allow the college to disclose education records to the parents. Each college has its own version of a FERPA Waiver. Ask the college’s financial aid office for the FERPA Waiver. You may also be able to find it on the college’s web site.


HIPAA Authorization

When a child reaches age 18, the child’s parents can no longer get access to the child’s medical records.

A HIPAA Authorization Form allows parents to get information about their child’s health and treatment.

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

Health Care Proxy

When a child reaches age 18, the child’s parents can no longer make medical decisions on the child’s behalf.

A Health Care Proxy, sometimes called a Health Care Power of Attorney or Durable Medical Power of Attorney, allows parents to make medical decisions on the child’s behalf if the child is unable to make such decisions due to being incapacitated.

Living Will

A Living Will, sometimes called an Advance Directive, specifies the child’s preferences if they are in a persistent vegetative state, unable to communicate or otherwise incapacitated. The living will states the child’s preferences for end-of-live medical care, including medical care to prolong life, food and water, pain management and palliative care.

A living will may also specify the child’s wishes concerning organ and tissue donation.

It is best for the child to discuss their wishes in advance with family members, in addition to providing a copy of their living will to their doctor and hospital, to reduce the likelihood that family members will interfere with their living will.


Power of Attorney

A Durable Power of Attorney provides a parent with the authority to handle financial and legal matters on the child’s behalf if the child is incapacitated. This allows the parent to manage bank accounts, pay bills, file tax returns, terminate contracts and apply for government benefits.

Check with each financial institution whether a durable general power of attorney is sufficient. Some financial institutions may require you to complete their own form instead.

Health Insurance

Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) extended coverage of children through age 26, it is a good idea to confirm that your child is covered under your health insurance, especially if the child is going to college out of state or in a different country.

If the child is going to college in a different country, it may be necessary to obtain medical evacuation insurance.

Homeowner’s Insurance

Check whether your homeowner’s insurance covers your child’s belongings while they are away at college. Some homeowner’s insurance policies will cover a child’s property only if the child is living in college owned or operated housing, such as a dorm room. If the child is living in a fraternity, sorority or off-campus apartment, they may need to get renter’s insurance.

Medical and Dental Appointments

Before your child leaves for college, it is a good idea to arrange medical and dental appointments, preferably at least a month before they depart.

  • Get a copy of their prescriptions, so they can fill them while they are on campus
  • Make sure their vaccinations are all up-to-date
  • If they have a chronic medical condition, get a copy of their medical records to bring with them to college, especially if they will need to see a doctor more than once a year


General Tips

These forms should be prepared and signed before the child goes off to college.

In some cases, the documents may need to be notarized and signed in the presence of witnesses who are not family members.

Do not rely on downloadable forms and generic forms, as these forms may not be up-to-date. It is best to contact each organization for their own forms. Many financial institutions will want you to complete their own forms, even if you have a durable power of attorney.

If the child is going to college out-of-state, it may be necessary to execute the forms in both states.

Review the forms periodically to ensure that they are up-to-date and comply with changes in state law. It is especially important to review the forms after a significant event, such as a change in marital status or a major diagnosis like cancer.

The child should keep a card in their wallet that specifies that they have these documents (especially a living will, health care proxy, HIPAA authorization and power of attorney), summarizes key provisions (e.g., DNR and DNI) and indicates where the documents can be found.

Some children may be resistant to signing a FERPA waiver or other documents. It is best for them to do this voluntarily. However, you can always insist on their signing the FERPA waiver if they want you to pay for college.

U.S. men between age 18 and 25, inclusive, are required to register with Selective Service if they want to receive federal student aid. It is a good idea for them to bring a copy of proof of registration with them to college.


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