Legal Considerations When Sending Children to College


Now that it is fall and the kids have all gone back to school, it is time to think about the special legal needs of collegeaged children. These newly minted adults are learning to be independent and make decisions on their own. However, many parents would still like to help their college kids and plan for what happens if there is an emergency. Durable Powers of Attorney allow a parent to “parent” their children even if they are young adults away at college and are useful in several contexts, but they are not the only legal area to think about before a child heads to campus.

Academics: While college is a time to turn off “helicopter parenting” and a time for children to grow in their independence, there may be times when a child needs a parent to step in and advocate or act on their behalf. For instance, if a child got into a conflict at school, having academic difficulties, or struggling to pay tuition on time a parent may want to step in. However, a parent has no right to obtain information about a child’s academics or discipline because the child is over the age of 18. The way around this issue is for the child to name a parent as their Power of Attorney to act on their behalf. While most people think about these documents helping with financial or medical decisions (which they do), powers can be broadly granted to allow parents access to academic information.

Medical Matters: When children become adults, parents no longer have the right to make medical decisions on their behalf or access medical records. There are the common worries about accidents and emergencies where parents cannot make medical decisions about their child’s treatment because there is no Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. But there are other concerns as well. Say, for instance, a parent is concerned about their child’s mental health while they are in college. Well, if there is no Durable Power of Attorney and HIPAA waiver in place, the parent cannot have a discussion with the child’s doctor about their concerns. Another concern would be handling prescriptions – generally, it is unwise to keep a full semester’s worth of medication in a dorm because it could be lost or damaged. Coordinating prescription refills is another way a parent can help their college-aged child from afar with a Durable Power of Attorney.

Finances: Thanks to technology, it is much easier for parents to help their children out financially while they are away at college. Tools like Venmo, the Cash App, and even PayPal have made it easier to send money to a child in a tight spot. However, students should consider signing a Financial Durable Power of Attorney allowing their parents to assist them with financial matters beyond sending them $20.00. Durable Powers of Attorney allow parents to file income tax returns, make travel arrangements, open and modify financial accounts, and check into tuition payments for their college-aged children.

Auto Liability: As your child leaves the nest for college there is one other area of planning to consider – mitigating liability for any automobile accident. When children are under the age of 18, they likely are driving cars owned by their parents. However, when a child becomes 18, the parents are legally no longer responsible for any automobile accidents the child gets into, unless the car the child is driving at the time of the accident is titled to a parent. If your child is taking a car to campus, it may be time to think about retitling the vehicle in the child’s name. It is both a gift to a child to have their own car and reduction in potential liability for the parent.

If you are concerned about any of the above matters, we can help your family prepare.