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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sending a Child Off to College? Call Your Lawyer First.

Weekend Wall Street Journal, Packing for College, 2010 Style:

As you help pack up the minifridge, laptop and extra-long twin sheets for your college freshman, you might consider a few other last-minute chores:  ... Call your lawyer.

Sending a child off to college for the first time is wrenching enough, but a slew of conflicting rules and changing banking and health-care laws are making this year's move-in season more confusing than ever. And with college costs and student debt at record levels, it is all the more important for students—and their parents—to avoid the new financial traps cropping up on campuses these days, from debit cards to health insurance. ...

Even as parents foot the bill for health care, privacy laws restrict doctors, nurses and student health from sharing information without an adult student's permission. That is where the lawyer comes in.

After a few clients ran into difficulty getting information about adult children who were ill, Sheila Benninger, an attorney in Chapel Hill, N.C., began recommending that clients' children designate a health-care power of attorney after they turn 18 to identify who can speak for them if they can't.

She also includes a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, release form that allows patients to determine who can receive information about their medical care and whether information about treatment for substance abuse, mental health or sexually transmitted diseases can be disclosed.

You don't have to use a lawyer. Generic health-care power-of-attorney forms can be found online. If the school has a HIPAA release online, it's best to use that more-tailored document.

Parents should keep a copy in an email folder, where it can be easily accessed in an emergency. And students should designate a general power of attorney so someone can pay bills or handle other issues if they go abroad.

"Even if you end up never using these documents," Ms. Benninger says, they help young people "understand the obligations of adulthood."

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Comments

Add to the packing list: a will, a checking account, a credit or debit card in their own name (to build credit), property insurance (available online cheaply with ultra low deductible), liability insurance if living off-campus. Decide where to register to vote (parents' home or college address, considering that jury duty will probably follow). Get (or renew) that passport NOW, as study abroad may be an option in the next four years. And of course, if they are lucky enough to own or use an auto at college, include a maintenance calendar, registration renewals and auto insurance. Look carefully at health services offered on campus, as prescription drugs, contact lenses/eyeglasses, dental and optical exams may be very economical and convenient.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 15, 2010 10:01:26 AM

I learned quickly about these issues when I left my son in his dorm, went out for a coffee, came back to get him . . . and they wouldn't let me in. Colleges tend to be very literal about privacy rules, and it's best to be prepared.

Posted by: mike livingston | Aug 15, 2010 12:12:36 PM

Ah yes, they have the right to strip you naked financially (unless you're paying cash), but you have no rights whatsoever as a parent. I raised my kids right, but I still have to acknowledge the luck involved in getting three through successfully. Luck is not a plan. I wish I had known this twelve years ago.

Posted by: MarkD | Aug 16, 2010 6:16:35 AM

My eldest daughter was a college freshman last year, and as we were significantly tightening our financial belts (and still are) to help her, I was shocked to hear some of the seniors in the public school, where I teach, talk so boldly and shamelessly in terms of entitlement in relation to their plans for college. As I spoke with them, I learned that they expected their parents to pay the bills, yet they were also offended that mom and dad might actually try to have some input into their decisions regarding college.

These students did not seem grateful, even after admitting that they were still largely supported by their parents, and a couple of them were downright irritated that I had pointed it out to them. Nor did these students see the need to listen to their parents' counsel or advice. The thought had not even occurred to them.

Granted, they were just high school seniors – kids – wanting to pretend that they were adults, yet it seems like the federal government wants to keep such kids deluded. I know that this will sound old fashioned, but should not our schools and society as a whole honor parents and the sacrifices that they make for their children?

Since I was a non-traditional undergrad in my late twenties, after eight years in the Air Force, and probably also because I was the first member of my family to graduate from college, I have certainly not bought into the assumption that mom and dad should simply pay the bills and then go away and shut up, so their 18-year-old can continue this game of "Let's Pretend."

My daughter, valedictorian of her class, said during her senior year that she wanted to visit the University of Michigan. Mean Grinch that I am, I told her that she could go, but then I asked how she planned to get to Ann Arbor. Okay, maybe that was mean, but I still do not feel obligated to become passive and indifferent in relation to my children, even when they turn 18 and go to college. My wife and I want our children to grow into honorable, virtuous adulthood, and the investment that we have in them is certainly much more than monetary.

It is hard to know or even notice when a kid becomes an adult, just like it is hard to notice when old age begins, but I strongly suspect adulthood arrives when a young person accepts adult responsibilities, begins to express gratitude to and honor those who have helped them along, and drops all of this shameless and pitiful talk of entitlement. These federal laws that drive wedges between parents and their children are horrible.

I am glad that my daughter is at Hillsdale College, which accepts no federal or state money, and so is she. The parent-child relationship can continue more naturally, and even as it changes as the student matures, Hillsdale seems more like a partner than an adversary who merely wants our money. In fact, two times a year, my wife and I can actually sit down and talk with her professors. Do these parent-professor conferences undermine the game of Let’s Pretend? Only if a student is still playing such games, and thankfully, our daughter is wiser than that. I suspect that most Hillsdale students are.

This article reminded me of what a wonderfully odd place Hillsdale is. (I hope that our government does not outlaw it.) Victor Davis Hanson, a visiting professor, called it "like going back to the 1950's, in a good way." As my daughter becomes an adult, as she grows in virtue, maturity, and wisdom, my wife and I have the joyful duty of stepping back and letting her go. Gradually, all parents have to fire the arrows away that have filled their quivers, yet this does not happen automatically or instantly at the legal age of 18. Most of the time today, adulthood gradually appears through the teen years and into the early twenties. It is sad that our laws do not acknowledge this fact.

This article reminded me that the interloping Feds will very often step in between parents and children in harmful ways. It also seems like such laws are designed to prolong childhood and inhibit the development of genuine maturity, virtue, and independence in the lives of college students.

Forgive me for rambling. Please delete this comment if I was too long.

Posted by: Robert Olson | Aug 16, 2010 7:58:29 AM

What I found particularly abhorrent was that afte I had paid the tuition, they didn't want me to have access to the grades.

It was bad enough that my icome was used to determine my step-daughter' eligibility for aid, not their deadbeat dad's.

Posted by: Richard Roark | Aug 16, 2010 8:24:32 AM

talk so boldly and shamelessly in terms of entitlement in relation to their plans for college. As I spoke with them, I learned that they expected their parents to pay the bills, yet they were also offended that mom and dad might actually try to have some input into their decisions regarding college.

Posted by: NFL Jerseys | Aug 17, 2010 5:03:10 PM