Amid the shopping frenzy and emotional flurry of getting a child off to college, it’s easy to overlook a few legal documents you might want to have in place as your student steps out in the world.

Much can happen within the hallowed halls of higher education—the good, the bad, the unexpected—as adult children practice navigating life on their own.

So before collapsing into an easy chair to contemplate an empty (or emptier) nest, you might want to consider putting a few documents in place to protect your student and give you peace of mind.

Don’t Be Shut Out

As a parent, it can be jarring—if not downright distressing—to be denied access to your child’s educational records, health records, or medical care in the event of an emergency.

But if your student is over the age of 18 upon entering university, this can happen—even if the student is on your insurance plan.

The following forms can allow you to help your child at college should they need it.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Authorization. Arguably the most critical form of the lot, HIPAA authorization allows parents to speak with providers and access their student’s medical records.

A few critical points:

  1. There is no universal HIPAA form accepted by all medical and mental health professionals. Parents need to find their student’s college-specific HIPAA form, often available on the student health website.
  2. Assuming your student is on your insurance plan, parents should also double-check with their insurance company to determine whether there’s a HIPAA form the insurance company needs on file.
  3. Be sure to tell the insurance company if your student is studying out of state. Insurance coverage and forms can vary depending on location.

Be sure to obtain a copy of the HIPPA release (or releases) for your own records.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Form. To be fair, this form—which allows parents access to transcripts, GPA, academic probation, and disciplinary records—is not absolutely necessary.

But if parents wish to speak with any professional on campus about educational records, the form is required.


Under FERPA, once a student turns 18 or enters college, academic information goes directly to the student unless the student has given written permission to release the information to someone else.

There are a few exceptions in which prior written consent is not required:

  • If parents list the child as a dependent student on their federal income tax return and the student meets additional income, residency, age, and marital status criteria.
  • If a disclosure is in connection with a health or safety emergency and is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or others.
  • If a disclosure relates to violation of any federal, state, or local law—or college rules—concerning use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance.

Whether or not to sign a FERPA form is a discussion best left to parent and student. Implications and rules are fairly complex and nuanced.

  • Important: Each college has its own version of a FERPA waiver, available through the college’s financial aid office.

Psychiatric Advanced Directive. If your student already has a psychiatric diagnosis and is on medication for it, a Psychiatric Advanced Directive is an important safeguard. In the event of a psychiatric emergency, the document enables an assigned person to make healthcare decisions on the student’s behalf.

The directive also allows students to identify a treatment team for coordination or care during a crisis and to articulate the types of care they want.

  • Limited release: Students seeking therapy can request a “limited release” for family members. This allows a student to request their therapist speak to parents only about depression and frequency of therapy but not, for instance, about sexual assault or substance use.

Healthcare Proxy/Medical Power of Attorney (MPOA). When a child reaches age 18, parents can no longer make medical decisions on a child’s behalf.

A healthcare proxy allows parents to make these decisions if their child is incapacitated or unable to speak for themselves.

If we have learned anything throughout this pandemic, it is the awful unexpected can happen. It is wise to have this form in place—even if your child is healthy.

Parents do not need a lawyer to create a healthcare proxy, but a state-specific form for the state in which your child is studying is required. These forms are available online, and depending on the state, may require notarization.

Your To-Do List is Complete

While your college to-do list is probably long and a tad overwhelming, we believe it’s worth taking the extra time to get some of these key forms signed and safely stored at home.

Many forms could be crafted to establish specific authorizations and access to information. However, we believe the forms listed here are particularly worth considering for proper planning and peace of mind.

In the event of an emergency or on-campus situation, it can be reassuring to know you’ll be able to help your student navigate the first of life’s twists and challenges.