Ah August! Although I was born and raised in the east, where fall was after Labor Day and the beginning of the new school year was signaled by the turning of the leaves; here in Arizona the temperatures are still in triple digits when the school year begins, and the only sign that a new school year is beginning is the incessant back to school ads that flood the airwaves.

If your baby is headed off to college for the first time then this season marks more than the usual turning of the calendar.  Aside from the cost and confusion of tuition, buying books, and arranging room and board, this rite of passage can be exciting and costly.  Many parents will experience amazement when they see how much stuff can fit into a dorm room, and how much electricity can be consumed by two new freshmen. Consider that when I entered Newman Hall in Blacksburg VA in the fall of 1968, the only plug in appliance in my room was a bedside lamp – even the essential alarm clock was a wind up Westclox!  One phone booth at the end of the hall served 120 men, and the highlight of every day was hanging out in the basement while the mail was sorted – our only communication with the outside world.

How times have changed!  In doing research for this article I was amazed to see how many online freshman checklists were available—there’s a list for everything: what clothes and amenities to pack; what furniture to bring; how to save on books; how to keep in touch with friends.  There’s even a planning calendar to help organize the brave new world of your college freshman!  However, what I did not find in all my searching was a list of the simple legal steps that are essential to keep your “baby” protected now that he is 18 and on his own in the eyes of the law.

Your son or daughter’s 18th birthday marks an important turning point in their life—and in yours.  You may still be fiscally responsible for them, but legally your child is now independent, and you will no longer legally be able to access their medical records or make emergency decisions for them without their permission. Although purchasing college health insurance may already be on the top of your “to do” list, a robust set of powers of attorney should not be overlooked. It’s time for many of the traditional “leaving the nest” conversations, but none is more important than the conversation about who will have the necessary legal authority to act on behalf of your young adult in an emergency.

In the (apparently) grand tradition of helpful college advice, I’ve created a checklist of my own to help parents of newly-minted 18 year olds ensure that their child will be legally protected while they’re off at college.  (You can read or print out the checklist for free by clicking here:Free Legal Checklist for New College Freshmen) The checklist includes such things as: make sure you are listed as an ICE (In Case of Emergency) contact in your child’s cell phone, and be sure you have a comprehensive health care power of attorney that includes a HIPAA release form so that you have access to medical information if something happens.  You may also want to consider purchasing a Docubank™ membership for your college student (the link shows you the complete services available for college bound children) after getting the proper documents prepared and signed.

At my office I provide counseling about health care, mental health, and financial powers of attorneys for college bound students, as well as a conversation about the importance of living wills—my door is always open.  Besides giving you peace of mind about being prepared and avoiding problems in the event of a medical emergency, this is also an excellent opportunity to introduce your child to the responsibilities and obligations of adulthood.

If you have a college bound student, please check out our Free Legal Checklist for New College Freshmen.  And if you know someone else with a college age student, please forward this on to them.

It’s an awesome world out there, send them out there prepared!