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3 Things Your Child Really Needs to Bring to College

Whether you feel it to be true, your kids become adults at age 18. They need to have these legal documents in order.

Congratulations! Your child is off to college. And whether they're headed across the country, across the state or across the street, they're undoubtedly excited about entering the initial stage of adulthood (or adulthood from their point of view at least).

Besides making sure everything is packed and ready, some other key items to add to their must-have lists are something you probably haven't thought about: necessary legal documents.

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Why in the world do I bring up legal documents? Because your kid is 18 now, and from a legal standpoint, an adult. And you, as the parent, have limited legal control over them.

When I've told this to my clients with children heading off to school, they often say that it's highly unlikely that any legal documents would ever be necessary. I wondered whether they were right—until I recently heard this true story from a family I was meeting with:

The couple's nephew, Mark, had hopped down to Florida for a long weekend break from college. While he really didn't do anything crazy, he came home with an upset stomach, which quickly turned into something much worse.

After going to the campus health center, he was taken quickly to the emergency room at the local hospital with a very serious intestinal infection. His college roommate called Mark's parents, who immediately called the hospital for more detailed information.

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Unfortunately, because Mark was 19 years old, making him an adult patient, the hospital informed his parents that they couldn't legally divulge any information about him. Needless to say, the parents were a little freaked out, but thankfully Mark recovered nicely and went back to school, just a little bit worse for wear.

The next time he was home, his parents had some legal documents ready for him to sign.

While we felt bad that this had happened to Mark, we were glad to know that this information we had been giving to our family clients had been the right thing to do to protect the family. Imagine how devastating it could have been if this incident had turned out to be life threatening!

So what legal documents do you need to have?

1. HIPAA Release Form

What's HIPAA? It's the Health insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and it requires health care providers and insurance companies to keep the patient's information private.

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If your student ends up in the hospital, this document, a permission slip of sorts, will allow the doctors to share information with you. And if your student is on your family health insurance plan, and you need to deal with your health insurance company about any medical claims for your student, this form is very important.

2. Health Care Power of Attorney (POA)

This is also called a medical power of attorney or healthcare proxy. You will need it to make health-care decisions if your student ends up in a medical crisis or has some mental health issues that make him or her unable to communicate or understand their own wishes. Some states will allow next of kin to make basic decisions, but if it's a critical situation, such as removal of life support or advanced mental health issues, without this POA, you would have to get a court order to take care of things.

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One other similar item you could consider having is a living will, with which your child can spell out a couple of very personal wishes such as what to do about organ donations or life-extending medical treatment, if the unthinkable occurs.

3. Durable Financial Power of Attorney

Regarding some financial things, such as the student's bank account, credit cards, car insurance, cell phone bill, taxes and more, parents without this POA won't have the authority to help without having to go to court. Obviously, the student wouldn't be able to sign any kind of form if incapacitated, and that's what this takes care of. It would be especially helpful if your student will be studying out of the country.

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You might want to check with any key financial institutions your child uses and see if they require any special POA of their own. Sometimes they are real fussy about it.

And if your kid is going out of state, check with your attorney to see if these documents are needed for both your home state and the state where the student will be attending school.

Sometimes it's hard for parents to comprehend that their babies are now becoming an adults. You've taught them the key things that should have prepared them for this next step in their lives. Now, be sure you take care of these three legal items so you can still take care of them if it becomes critically necessary. After all, isn't that the most important thing we can do for them in life?

Charles C. Scott, Accredited Investment Fiduciary®, has more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry. "Our mission is to help our clients discover, design and live the life that they want to live by matching their finances with their visions, values and goals."

About the Author

Charles C. Scott, AIF®

President, Pelleton Capital Management, Ltd.

Charles C. Scott, Accredited Investment Fiduciary®, has more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry. He developed and managed an institutional sales department for Washington Mutual, and then served as the Northwest Regional Manager for MFS, America's oldest mutual fund company. Since 1993, he has been an independent adviser, focusing on providing his clients with objective, unbiased planning and investment advice. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, CFO Magazine and other publications.

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