Applications are done. You and your kids are probably waiting for acceptance (or the dreaded rejection) letters. You may be waiting to hear about financial aid packages. There are decisions to be made, months of school left to go. Prom, finals, graduation … Before you know it, your college bound kids will be heading off. Whether they go across town or around the world, you’ll want to know they are prepared.
Here’s an essential checklist of things your college bound kids need. These aren’t dorm basics you can pick up at Target or order on Amazon. It’s not the extensive list of books to buy, but these things are important nonetheless, and often overlooked. Don’t wait until August when you’re nagging your “baby” to pack. Now is a great time to think about what you’ll need and start the process.
Your Essential College-Bound Kid Checklist
When your child turns eighteen, you no longer have legal rights to certain information related to your child. While this allows your child to have privacy and independence, it can result in some challenges, especially if you aren’t both aware that you don’t have access to information.
In many cases, you son or daughter can grant access, and it’s a good thing to talk about before they leave home. You may want to talk to them about these:
Rights & responsibility
This shouldn’t be new, but it’s worthwhile to talk to your child again about how they will be seen as an adult upon turning 18. Being considered a legal adult means that small infractions can have bigger consequences. And, as they aren’t minors any longer, they need to be aware of their rights at school and at home.
You’ve probably been talking about financial literacy with your children long before now. Financial literacy talks should grow with your kids. Think about situations your child will face and discuss or review how to handle them. Things to consider:
- Wants vs. needs
- Creating good credit (and if they’ve never had a credit card before, how credit cards work)
- Getting a job at school if you expect them to do so.
It is helpful to make it clear what you will pay for and what you expect your child to pay for. Talk about what to do if they get into money trouble (hiding it or ignoring it doesn’t help). Let them know you are there to give advice or answer questions if they need you.
Health care proxy
What happens if your child can’t make decisions for themselves? A health care proxy will allow you to make medical decisions for you child if they are incapacitated, for example if they were unconscious after an accident or had complications during surgery. Some states have HIPAA releases as part of the health care proxy and some do not.
A HIPAA release gives your child’s doctors the right to share information with you. Without one, healthcare providers cannot legally share certain information with you. You may want to discuss with your family physician or attorney the benefits of having your child sign one granting you the ability to talk to healthcare providers.
I know this is scary to think about, but it is even scarier to think about not being able to help our kids when they need us. Just having them sign the form (note, you may need two witnesses or a notary in most states) can give you peace of mind, but it is also helpful to have a more general discussion about health care wishes. In fact, I encourage clients to start this discussion as soon as their kids are teens, and just like sex ed, the discussion is way easier and less charged when the issue is not urgent.
Access to financial accounts
Talk with colleges and banks about who gets bills and statements. Often if the student is the sole owner of the account, you will not have access unless the student specifically grants it in writing. Discuss with your child what access you are requesting and why. Most colleges do not send grades or other private information to parents of students over 18, but access can be granted to much of the information by your student. Each college handles this slightly differently, so it is worth looking into. This is a family by family discussion. There are no right or wrong answers. I just encourage you to be aware and talk.
Registering to vote
Students may want to register to vote, and if they do and will be away on election day, they may need to request an absentee ballot. Check with your voting area about specific rules and processes.
Power of attorney
Some families have their child sign a financial power of attorney. This allows you to sign documents on your child’s behalf. It can also give you access to financial accounts. These are useful when students are out of the country. Again, discuss with your family attorney as to whether this is advisable for you and your child.
Get the Logistics Out of the Way So You Can Focus on Celebrating
There are a lot of things to think about when your child is getting ready for college. We tend to think of the logistics of getting to college and getting the dorm or apartment ready. We look at the cost of tuition, room and board, and books. We try to prepare emotionally. But too often legal and financial issues (aside from direct college costs) get ignored until there is a problem.
I know you’re waiting to see where your kids will go to school and trying to get them through these last few months. You’re planning for graduation and know you need to get them ready. As you prepare, don’t forget these important documents and conversations. And doing so now, allows the end of year be all about the celebration of graduation and the excitement of this next big step.
If you have older children, many of these checklist items still apply. In fact a financial power of attorney may be even more useful for a child who is financially independent. In the event they cannot make decisions for themselves, their power of attorney can step in. That may be you or their spouse or someone else they choose.
One last thing! Since your kids are about to leave the nest, another great thing to give them is your family motto. If you don’t have one, sign up here to get my step-by-step guide: How to Create a Family Motto.