5 Things Parents Need to Know Before Their Kids Go to College
The year before a child goes off to college is an emotional one for parents, especially if this is the first kid to leave the nest. If your not-so-little one is visiting colleges, applying, and getting ready to leave home, you may be feeling anxious, lost, and fearful about the future. More likely than not, you’re also feeling really proud of all your child has accomplished so far.
As your child reaches the age of eighteen and steps out into the world as a legal adult, you will simultaneously be stepping out of your role as legal guardian. This transition is a time when your child needs plenty of support, but they also need the space to grow and learn on their own. To help you on this journey, we have gathered together five things you need to know before your child heads out to college:
1. If your child becomes incapacitated, injured, or sick, you will not necessarily be consulted on medical care or end-of-life decisions.
Mortality is a difficult coming-of-age concept, but it is one that may be easier for your child if he or she is introduced to talking about and planning for death at an early age. Accident, illness, or injury can affect anyone, and it is important to have a plan in place for your teen as they step out into the world.
If accident, injury, or illness occur and result in physical or mental incapacity, your young adult will need to have a written document designating their medical care preferences and to whom they want to entrust health care decisions. Without any documentation, decision-making will be left to the doctor or other medical professional until you are able to gain legal status to get involved.
An advance healthcare directive created by an attorney at Wakefield Law can give our clients and their loved ones the ability to express medical preferences in advance of a catastrophe and to designate a person who can step in to make medical decisions if they are unable to do so. An advance health care directive can include preferences about specific medical treatments and situations. These decisions have profound religious and philosophical implications, and it will be important to have this discussion with your teen.
Within an advance health care directive, your newly adult child can designate a person to make medical decisions on his or her behalf if they are unable to do so. This is sometimes called the health care proxy, durable medical power of attorney, or health care surrogate. The proxy (and successor proxies, in case the primary person listed is unable to fulfill these duties) should be willing and able to make medical decisions for the child. Having a medical proxy helps avoid the confusion and delay that may be caused by having to go to court and ask for a guardian to be appointed.
If your child chooses to appoint you as a medical proxy, it will be essential that you listen carefully and openly to them as they express their preferences to you. This conversation can remain open as your young adult gets older and matures. If medical preferences change or if your child wants to designate a different medical proxy later in life (for example, if they get married), these documents can easily be changed and replaced with new directives.
While you are having this conversation with your teenager, ask them about whether they want to participate in your state’s organ and tissue donation program. They can communicate this preference in their health care directive, and they will also likely need to register as an organ donor with the state.
2. If your child falls ill or gets injured, you may not even be permitted to speak with a medical professional about his or her condition.
As you likely know, privacy is of the utmost importance in the medical field. To ensure that you are permitted to speak with healthcare professionals about your child’s condition, it will be essential that you have your son or daughter complete a HIPAA Authorization. A HIPAA Authorization is a document that gives permission for medical professionals to speak with a particular individual about the patient’s condition, treatment, and health record. Without such an authorization, it is unlikely that healthcare professionals will be unable to share any information about your child’s condition with you.
3. Talking about money is one of the best ways to raise a responsible adult.
Talking about money can feel uncomfortable at first, but it is essential for a young person to develop a healthy appreciation for responsibility and money. A young person’s first years out on their own are often their first experiences managing money and making their own budgeting decisions. These years can either be a great foundation for success, or they can be a time when bad habits are practiced, formed, and solidified.
Before sending your kids off to college, sit down and have a conversation with them about fiscal responsibility. If they don’t have one, help them set up a savings account and even a retirement account. Talk to them about budgeting and paying bills. Explain how credit cards and debt works and what goes into calculating a credit score. If you don’t feel equipped to provide all of this information yourself, introduce your son or daughter to an attorney or a financial planner. Communication is key, and beginning the conversation early can help prevent big mistakes down the road.
Creating an estate plan, even without any assets yet, can create a sense of responsibility and commitment to planning. If your child does have any assets, including bank accounts, stocks, bonds, or savings accounts, he or she will need to designate someone to be responsible for their financial decisions if they become incapacitated. This is the role of the person designated in a durable power of attorney. Some assets, such as bank accounts and investment accounts, can be transferred to heirs using a beneficiary designation form. This form not only keeps your child’s limited assets out of probate court (which is costly and time-consuming, especially if he or she has very limited assets), but it also gives you a chance to discuss estate planning with your child. He or she may wish to name you as beneficiaries to any assets, but this is also a great opportunity to instill charitable values in your child. Perhaps he or she is passionate about the environment or civil rights or fighting hunger. You and your child could explore the option of naming a charitable organization as the beneficiary to some or all of the assets your child possesses.
4. If your child is taking out student loans to go to college, he or she may not understand what that means.
As an adult with expenses, loans, and experience, you may have no trouble understanding the commitment your child is making when he or she signs a promissory note to take out student loans. However, even if they seem to understand, it is important to continue to engage your young adult on what it really means to take out student loans. Make sure that he or she understands the difference between private and federal loans. Explain interest rates to them and make sure that your child understands the terms and different types of repayment.
This should not be an exercise in frightening your child or forcing them into a career they would not choose. Instead, focus on the empowerment of understanding your finances and facing them head-on. Again, if you think your child would benefit from discussing this matter with a professional, make an appointment with an attorney, financial planner, or student loan officer.
5. When your child goes away to college, your insurance coverage may not be enough to cover everything they are doing.
Driving can be a costly new privilege for young adults. When a teen gets his or her license and wants to start driving, did you add your child to your own insurance policy or did they get their own? If your son or daughter is insured on your policy and wants to take a car to school, make sure that you notify your insurance company and let them know where your child will be keeping the vehicle. Some insurers offer rate reductions for college students with good grades, so make sure you discuss that with your insurance provider and with your new college student. If your son or daughter is going to be getting auto insurance on their own, take the time to shop around with them. Without a long driving history, college students’ insurance can be steep, but you can probably find a deal if you put in the effort.
If your young adult is planning on living on campus, renter’s insurance is likely not an issue. However, if he or she is going to be living in a private residence, it might make sense to look into renter’s insurance. Renters insurance can help protect against loss, theft, or damage to personal property, which may be important if your child brings valuable technology or other items with them to the college.
If your child travels abroad for spring break or study abroad, there are lots of things to think about: changing currency, what to pack, what vaccinations are required, where to stay when they get there. One thing that young people often do not think about is whether their health insurance covers overseas travel. What will happen if your child becomes ill and requires medical attention? Or gets injured? Or has a flight canceled? Or gets his or her bag stolen? Each of these circumstances can easily happen when traveling, but that shouldn’t keep your child from having meaningful experiences. Instead, they are simply subjects that should be discussed, planned for, and, if circumstances warrant, insured against with travel insurance.
Contact an Estate Planning Attorney Today
If your young person is preparing to head off to college this year, feel free to reach out to us to learn how we can help you and your child prepare. Our compassionate and patient attorneys are ready to discuss health care and estate planning with your young adult and help your family prepare for the future.
Call Wakefield Law today at (703) 771-9740 or contact us online to schedule your initial consultation with an estate planning lawyer today.