Legal Advice for When Your Kids go to College

parents smiling as their kid heads off to college

Well, your “kids” are off to college! They’ll always be your kids, but the law does not see them as children any longer. They are now adults. And when your child becomes an adult, there come new responsibilities that must be recognized, especially when your adult children leave home for school.

Transportation

How are your children going to get to their new home away from home? Most likely in a car. But who’s car is it? If it is the parents’ car (titled and registered) that the child uses, the parents will remain financially liable for any of the damage caused using that vehicle; no matter who was driving it (with permission). Scary thought, but Florida’s vicarious liability laws ensure that the owner of any motor vehicle remains responsible for its use and operation no matter the driver. Some may argue that is not “fair,” but Florida law considers a motor vehicle a “dangerous instrumentality” and therefore, it requires a higher degree of responsibility for the owners and operators.

Luckily, there is a simple fix. If you transfer the title to your child and register the vehicle in your child’s name only, you are no longer liable for damages caused by that motor vehicle. You must still make sure that the vehicle remains insured to protect your child from any financial liability. Although premiums might be higher for the individual child than for the household, you would be well advised to consider the long-term effect of a money judgment against you compared to the additional premiums paid for the policy.

Health

Most parents are used to making medical decisions for our children. When they have a cold or flu, we might take them to the doctor to see if there is a need for medication. If our children are injured, we will take them to the hospital for emergency care. And if God forbid, they are in an accident and they cannot speak for themselves regarding their medical treatment, parents can speak up for them.

But, when your children are away from home at school, your children will be responsible for their own medical care. As adults, they can consent to or deny taking medications or treatment that is offered to them. As adults, they now make their own medical decisions. But what happens when they are incapacitated and cannot speak?

Before your child goes to school, you should have them execute a document appointing you a health care surrogate. You can keep that document and if necessary, present it to any physician or facility and they will look to you for all the medical decisions to be made for your incapacitated child. That same document will allow you access to all your child’s medical records.

Power of Attorney

Along those lines, you might consider having your child grant you durable power of attorney so that you may conduct all business for them or alongside them. This would include buying and selling automobiles, signing leases, negotiating purchases, enrolling in programs, applying for benefits, credit, etc. This document could also give you authority to get their personal account information from any banking institution, credit card company or educational institution.

When our kids go off to school, we hope that they grow into responsible young adults. But no matter how responsible our children can be, there can be unexpected life events that still require parental involvement. Even when parents don’t recognize that their children are adults, the law does. These simple safeguards can help parents maintain their “rights” when dealing with matters related to their adult children.

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Written by Michael Brehne

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