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Legal Documents Every College Student Should Have

By Jonathan Cook

Sayer, Regan & Thayer, LLP

As millions of students head back to college, or make the exciting journey for the first time, nobody wants to think of possible problems or issues that may arise. Yet it pays to be prepared, for both the student and their parents. Here is a list of legal documents that every college student needs before they hit the books this fall.

  1. Durable Power of Attorney - A durable power of attorney is a legal document that allows a college-aged child to permit their parents to make legal and financial decisions on their child’s behalf. This is extremely helpful if the student gets into a situation where they cannot make decisions (accident, injury, incapacitation, etc.). In addition, parents often open joint checking or savings accounts with their children, and a durable power of attorney can be helpful if there is a dispute. A durable power of attorney can be drafted with specific provisions suitable to the needs of a student and family.
  2. HIPAA Release - The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law designed to protect an individual’s medical information. When a child lives at home and is under 18-years-old, his or her parents are automatically entitled to this information. However, once your child reaches age 18 and became an adult in the eyes of the law, their personal health information is now protected, even from their own parents. A HIPAA release should go hand-in-hand with the Designation of Health Care Surrogate and a Living Will (see below) and should name the parent as an authorized person with whom medical records may be shared.  
  3. Designation of Health Care Surrogate and Living Will - A Designation of Health Care Surrogate and a Living Will are documents in which a student over the age of 18 designates an agent to make various types of health care decisions on behalf of the student. Why is this important? Because without it the parent of a student who is over age 18 may not be able to make medical decisions regarding their child, even in an emergency.
  4. FERPA Release - FERPA is a federal law and stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Virtually all colleges and universities are subject to FERPA. The law protects the privacy of student education records. Under the law, education records are defined as records, files, documents, and other materials that contain information directly related to a student and are maintained by the educational institution or by a person acting on behalf of the institution. “Educational records” include grades, a student's schedule of classes, disciplinary records, and a student’s financial aid records.

When a student reaches age 18 or begins to attend a post-secondary college or university (regardless of age), all rights become the students. This also applies to parents of a high school student under age 18 who is enrolled in a duel curriculum course in which their child is taking college classes at a local college. This means is that a parent would be unable to access their own child’s student records. Having an executed FERPA release authorizing the school to release information and records to the student’s parents can avoid this.  
Having these documents prepared before your child goes off to college may not only save time and money, but can provide a sense of assurance and peace of mind.

Jonathan Cook of Sayer, Regan & Thayer, LLP has represented over 150 students at Colleges and Universities nationwide.

These materials have been prepared by SRT for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

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