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Planning for Children Going to College or Turning 18

Health Care & Financial Decisions.  In North Carolina, as in most states, the age of majority is 18 years of age.  In addition to being able to vote, 18-year-olds gain the right to enter into binding contracts and the right to make their own financial and health care decisions.  Unfortunately, many parents fail to realize that when their child reaches the age of majority, parents no longer have the legal authority to make those decisions for their children.

Nothing could be more frustrating to a parent than being unable to make critical health care decisions for a child who has turned 18. While some health care institutions might allow health care decisions to be made by the parent of an unmarried child over 18, parents can eliminate the risk that the their input may not be sought or considered by having their child sign a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA). The HCPOA should grant broad authority to one or both parents and include a “back-up” agent who can step in if no parent is available to make health care decisions. The child should keep a copy of this important document, and the parents keep the original.

In addition to a HCPOA, parents should ask their child to sign a HIPAA Authorization that authorizes the parents to obtain protected health care information in the possession of a health care provider.  Click on the link to learn more about this important document.


Finally, in order for parents of children 18 or older to have legal authority to make financial decisions, parents need to ask their children to sign a Financial Power of Attorney.  Click on the link to learn more.


FERPA Release.  For children heading off to college, there is another important legal issue that parents need to address.  Under the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA), parents have the right to obtain their children's education records if the child has not turned 18 or started their post-secondary education.  However, as soon as a child attains age 18 or begins matriculation at a post-secondary educational institution, parents lose the right to access their child's education records without a release signed by the child.


There is an exception that, if adopted as the policy of the educational institution, allows the institution to provide education records to parents who claim the child as a dependent on their tax return.  Since educational institutions are not required to follow that exception, parents should not rely on it.  Instead, parents who wish to receive their children's education records should ask their children to sign a FERPA release and send the original to the school. 


Most educational institutions post FERPA release forms on their websites, but here is the form provided by the Department of Education which has been adopted by most institutions: 


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