College Prep 101: Documents to sign before school begins

August 21, 2023

College Prep 101: Complete These Documents Before Your Child Heads Off to School

As students gear up for their exciting journey into college life, there's a crucial checklist that goes beyond textbooks and dorm room essentials. Parents often play a pivotal role in their child's life, but when it comes to financial accounts and medical records, the transition to adulthood brings many changes. Here's why students should consider leaving behind a few crucial documents for their parents.

Why These Documents Matter

As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, once a child turns 18, parents lose automatic access to their child’s financial and medical information. While it might seem like a remote concern, unexpected emergencies and accidents can and do arise during the college years. Situations can quickly escalate if parents aren’t equipped with necessary decision-making permissions. To avoid potential hardships and costly consequences down the road, investing a little time now can help both students and their parents avoid significant stress.

Getting Started

While several of these documents can be easily obtained online at little to no cost, families with unique circumstances might benefit from consulting their estate-planning attorney and speaking with their Evermay Wealth advisor.

Protecting Medical Access: Universal HIPAA Release Form

Access to medical records becomes vital when a child is away at college. The Universal HIPAA release form grants permission to share medical information with designated individuals, such as parents, and can specify which information remains private. This document can offer peace of mind and ensures parents can access important medical data, like lab results, even if their child is studying abroad. It's not restricted to a single provider, making it very versatile. A sample HIPAA release form is linked below.

Empowering Medical Decisions: Healthcare Proxy

Emergencies can strike unexpectedly. A healthcare proxy, also known as a healthcare power of attorney, allows a trusted individual to make medical decisions on the student's behalf if they're unable to do so. This document emphasizes the importance of having someone advocate for the student's well-being, even when they can't communicate their wishes. This form can be prepared by an attorney or an online legal platform. Note that state-specific forms may be needed, and families with students attending college in different states should review the rules of both states.

Preparing for Medical Scenarios: Living Will

While uncomfortable to think about, a living will allows students to specify their preferences for lifesaving measures, pain management, and organ donation in the event of a medical crisis. With a living will in place, loved ones won't be left making difficult decisions during a crisis.

Covering Medical Expenses: Health Insurance

Students are often covered by their parents' health insurance until age 26, but some opt for school-provided insurance. Parents may want to consider having access to the insurance plan for billing and coverage details.

Financial Preparedness: Durable Power of Attorney for Finances

Financial responsibilities don't pause when college begins. The durable power of attorney empowers parents to manage financial matters like rent or credit-card payments without violating terms of service. The scope of authority varies, so consulting an attorney is crucial to find the right fit. Students can decide when this power takes effect, be it immediate or under specific conditions like illness.

Navigating Academic Privacy: FERPA Waiver

Here’s one that’s a bit more controversial. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) restricts parents' access to academic records once a student turns 18. Any decision to allow parents to have access to these records is the right of the student. To change this restriction, students can fill out a FERPA waiver to grant parents access to grades, financial aid information, and more. Policies may vary by school, so be sure to have your child check with the college’s student records department.

Course Summary

As young adults set off on their college journeys, they can provide their parents with peace of mind by preparing a few essential documents. The Universal HIPAA release form, healthcare proxy, living will, durable power of attorney for finances, health insurance access, and FERPA waiver are vital tools for navigating unexpected situations. By recognizing the importance of these documents, students can ensure that their parents are equipped to provide support during their college years, no matter the circumstances. Taking a small step today can prevent major hurdles in the future.


The Wall Street Journal, Cheryl Munk, 8/14/2023, “Before Your Child Goes to College, Complete These 6 Important Documents”

Forbes, Christine Fletcher, 8/29/2018, “What Legal Documents Do Your Kids Need Before Going To College?”, Mark Kantrowitz, 8/27/2019, “Legal Documents for Students Who Are Headed to College"

American Bar Association, sample HIPAA release form:



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