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6 Forms You Really Want Signed Before Your Student Enrolls in Collegeby Joanna Lilley, MA, NCC, founder of Lilley Consulting
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When your young adults goes off to college, it’s imperative that you understand that even though you are the parent, if they are over the age of 18 you can be denied access to their educational records, mental health records, and any medical healthcare in an emergency situation. You are probably trying to decide whether this feels invasive having your young adult sign a few forms before anything happens. If anything, you might subscribe to the mindset of “if you will it, and it will happen.” If that is the case, you can rest easier knowing that when the crisis does arise, you’ll at minimum be informed.

You’d be shocked to know how many parents felt helpless during an emergency where they were told absolutely nothing because there was no release. This applies even if your young adult is on your insurance plan! They’re of legal age. If releases are not signed, you are out of the loop. Period.

Now, this article is being written under the impression that you understand the differences between the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). If you are not familiar with what each of these is and what it does, you may want to start with this article. In a nutshell, US privacy laws protect the educational and health records of young adults while they are on and off campus. If your young adult doesn’t sign release forms to allow you access to their records, you have no way of knowing or seeing any of their records. No matter how angry or how much pleading you do, unless they have signed the forms preemptively, you will not be informed.

What are the Critical Release Forms that Your Child Should Sign for His Protection?

  • First, you will want a FERPA release authorized. Having your young adult log into their University platform and fill out the FERPA waiver will allow you access transcripts, GPA, academic probation, any disciplinary records, and all things that fall under financial aid.This release form also allows you to speak with any professional on campus about your young adult’s educational records. Prior to speaking with you, each staff member will log online to check that the FERPA release in the student’s files. Upon confirmation, they will speak with you about any questions or concerns you may have. To be blunt, this release is not necessary for a parent to have. Most parents requesting this are interested in grades, helping with paying tuition, and speaking with an Academic Advisor.
  • Secondly, you’ll want HIPAA authorization. You can find a HIPAA form online and have your child fill it out before they enroll. If your student is attending college out of state, make sure you have a form signed for each state. Additionally, each University will have their own school HIPAA form for a student to sign. They use this as an extra measure to protect the privacy of students. It may seem like overkill, but in the end the university and medical providers legally are protecting themselves by protecting the rights of the students. If you log onto the Student Health website, you will most likely be able to find their form online. If not, have your student fill it out on campus as soon as they get there. You will want them to scan and email you a copy of the release for your own records. Having a HIPPA release allows you to speak with providers and have access to all medical records. You’ll really want to have this! It’s very important!Keep in mind that if your young adult is seeking a therapist, they can request a “limited release” for family members. A student who would do that might ask their therapist to speak to their parents only about depression and how often they’re coming in for therapy, but might also ask specifically not discuss a sexual assault or substance use. The student will have such requests in writing with the Mental Health Professional they’re meeting with.Assuming your young adult is on your insurance plan, you will also want to speak with an Insurance representative to ask if there is a HIPAA form they specifically need on file as well. Depending on if your student is studying in-state, you will also need to make sure you mention this as their coverage and forms may vary depending on location. Again, it’s better to have it and not need it than not have it and to need the signed form.
  • The Psychiatric Advanced Directive: If at the time your student is enrolling in college he already has a psychiatric diagnosis and is on medication for it, you will want to create a Psychiatric Advanced Directive. This is a third form I would recommend to parents of college students. You can find these forms online as well. If your student is attending college out of state, you’ll want to have one on file in your home state and the in the state where their college is located. Each state varies in what is included within this Psychiatric Advanced Directive.The purpose of creating and filing out this document is to ensure that if/when your young adult has a psychiatric emergency, the person they assigned (you, in this case) will be able to make healthcare decisions on their behalf. Most importantly, it allows your young adult to identify their treatment team for coordination or care during a crisis, and what types of care the young adult wants.An example of this could be identifying a specific hospital that your young adult would or would not go to in a psychiatric emergency.
  • A fourth form you will want is a Health-Care Proxy, also referred to as Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA). Having this will allow you as a parent to make medical decisions on behalf of your young adult if they are not able to. An example would be if they were unconscious or in a coma. If you do not have this in advance, you will not have access to knowing or contributing to the medical care of your young adult. It’s better to have this form signed and never to need it, than to need it, and not have access to participate in an emergency! Please note that you don’t need a lawyer to create this Health-Care Proxy. You will, however, need a state-specific form for for the state where your your child is studying out-of-state.
  • A fifth document would be the Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), not to be confused with the Medical Power of Attorney. This form allows you access to bank accounts, credit cards, file a tax return, renew a car registration, etc. Not having this form would be most detrimental if your young adult studies abroad. The idea is that you are granted access because your young adult is unable to take care of such matters. The hope is that you would not need access to any of this, however it’s better to have this form signed in case of emergencies.
  • The sixth and final document would be a Living Will. If your young adult has assets (car, pet, outdoor gear, etc.) you will want to make sure they have a legal document stating who receives these assets in case of death. This will ensure that their belongings will not be seized. This will also state whether your young adult is an organ donor, in case they cannot find any identification. You can find a generic Living Will template online. Your young adult will need to have this form notarized to have this document be official.

All these forms should be signed before before your child heads off to college. You will also want to make sure they as well as you have hard copies as well as copies online because you need to have a way to easily present the documentation to any health care providers!

These are very uncomfortable topics to discuss with your soon-to-be college student, yet the reality is you want to make it known that should anything happen while they are away they can be at peace knowing their family can communicate with anyone involved and ensure they are taken care of.

Joanna Lilley, MA, NCC is a Therapeutic Consultant, Behavioral Healthcare Navigator, and Young Adult Advocate, specializing in working with struggling young adults and their families nationally and internationally. See her site at: www.lilley-consulting.com, contact her by phone at: (970) 218-9958, or email at: joanna@lilley-consulting.com.