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The Kids Are Going Off to College....What Do You Need to Know as a Parent

The long and the short of it is: Your child is considered an adult for all legal purposes including making medical, financial and educational decisions on their own behalf. But what happens if they get in trouble? Solution: Communicate with your adult child that although they are at college without you that you are their safety net in case something happens. Instill in your child the concept of TEAM.

Why It’s the Perfect Time to Set Your Kids Up for Success

Whether your child is just turning the corner on their senior year of high school or they’re already in the midst of their undergraduate studies, their 18th birthday undoubtedly marks the transition to adulthood when it comes to their legal affairs. This can impact you as their parent in a few distinct ways:

  • Medical decisions: When your children become legal adults, you no longer have the authority to know their medical details or make healthcare decisions on their behalf. Although no parents wants to consider having to make these decisions, without the legal paperwork, your child's welfare could be left to professionals in a different state maybe even without your knowledge. Without proper legal documents in place, you may need to hire an out-of-state attorney just to petition a court to be named as guardian or conservator — a time consuming, expensive, and distracting process.

  • Financial decisions: Whether it is getting a loan to pay for college or signing on for a new credit card. Talking to your young adult about the long term impacts of public versus private loans and the concept of compounding interest rates is important. And naming a Durable Power of Attorney in the case of incapacity is equally important so that bills get paid and the family can be involved if things get out of control.

Here is a story on this issue I find illustrative of the point that Communication is the key:

"When my son started college, I didn’t know that I wouldn’t automatically have the right to access his educational records. As a result of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), my son would have had to sign a form explicitly allowing his father and me to access certain information. Since at 18, students are considered adults, and any school that receives federal funds falls under this law. When my son “Tom” (not his real name) got into an academic bind in college, he didnt ask us for help, in fact I believe that if I’d been able to monitor his progress, we would have intervened, and saved ourselves a lot of heartache. Up until this point, Tom had a 3.9 GPA at the end of his junior year. But the problems started toward the end of the first semester of his fourth year. His grades plummeted, partially because of extra-curricular activities such as an off-campus job, and partially because of his personality and unwillingness to communicate. Professors and advisors tried repeatedly to get him back on track, but to no avail. And no one called us. Tom became depressed and anxious and eventually stopped going to classes. He was put on academic probation and then expelled." There’s more to the story, but the crux of it is that his father and I knew nothing about this. Neither the dean, the professors, nor the administration could notify us of his situation because they were “bound by FERPA,” they said. We thought we had signed a waiver, but apparently, his school has two–a financial one and an academic one. We weren’t aware of the academic one (which Tom probably would have had no problem signing.)

Since this happened, all waivers have been signed. I don’t think Tom would have found himself in such a mess if we had access to his grades. Stupidly, we trusted him, and did not check up on him—we never needed to before. We were still charged tuition for his last semester, even though he was no longer enrolled in the school. When we couldn’t reach Tom (because he was AWOL) and called “public safety” to check up on him, he wound up showing up, so they were recalled. We were told that unless he was a danger to himself, the school could not notify us when he took off…and because he was not a danger to anyone, they didn’t.

The only real way we would have found out about his situation would have been if he wound up “dead” or in the hospital. Ironically, the law is supposed to protect the student, but in many cases, it doesn’t. Thankfully my son’s situation ended okay–had he been really mentally ill, it could have been a disaster. Thankfully, Tom is a senior now. He’s back on track, in summer school and aiming to graduate. Parents have to be aware that both types of FERPA forms (academic and financial) need to be signed, and colleges should tell parents about them at orientation.

Solution? Communicate and Plan. Call us today, 505-835-6580! In protecting those we love through planning,

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