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How Can I Protect My Teen When They Go Away to College?

Posted by Neil Tyra | Jun 28, 2020

Every summer, I am reminded of the intense emotions I felt all those years ago when my kids first went away to college. Sure, I was proud of them for graduating from high school. I was excited to watch them embark on the next step in their journeys. I was nostalgic about how quickly time passes, thinking of them as little toddlers running on the beach. But, most of all, I was scared. It wasn't an active fear like I was imagining terrible things happening to them, but it was a low-level worried fear that I would no longer be just up the street if they needed me. For all parents, the “leaving the nest” moment is a big one. It creates a very real shift in the family dynamic and in your role as a parent. You start to lose the supervisory role and move into one of an advisor. You can't really tell your teens what to do, but you can make suggestions and give advice based on your own experiences.

This year, the “going away to college” thing looks a little different. Your teens might not be preparing to move into a dorm and fully immerse themselves into the college experience. Whether your teen even moves out of the house at all might be a little up in the air. However, one thing is clear: your teen is growing up, starting their own life, and pursuing their dreams. Sooner or later, it will likely lead them away from the home.

What Do I Need to Do to Prepare My Teen to Go Away to College?

In the last few months before your teen steps into college life, I am sure there are lots of things you want to share with them. You want them to be prepared, and you want to know they will be successful.

What Does My Teen Need to Know about Finances, Health Care, and Estate Planning?

Of course, there is only so much we can do and say before we have to let our little birds fly free. However, there are some things we can do to make sure that they are prepared.

First, talk to your kids about finances. Make sure they understand where their money will be coming from and what it should cover. If they don't understand budgeting yet, take some time to help them draw up a budget and create a plan to stick to it. If they will be working in the coming year, help to walk them through the process of setting up direct deposit, downloading their banking app on their phones, and using it to monitor their transactions. While you are at it, make sure they have a Power of Attorney in place. Help them understand that, when it comes to their financial life, they need to have a backup plan. A Power of Attorney is a document that your teen can use to name a trusted adult (perhaps you, as the parent) who is empowered to make financial decisions on their behalf if they ever become incapacitated.

Next, talk about health. I am sure, in the current climate, health has been a common topic of conversation in your home. However, in addition to understanding how to keep themselves safe from COVID-19, your teen will also need to know how to utilize their health insurance and access health care if need be. Make sure they have their health insurance card and know how to use it. Explain their copay and policy coverages with them. If they don't yet have a primary care physician where they will be living, select one with them, and make sure they know how to make an appointment.

They will also need to complete an Advance Medical Directive. Now that your teen is technically an adult, you will not automatically be permitted to participate in health care decisions on their behalf. If they become ill or injured, you may not be able to even discuss their medical condition with their doctors without written permission. That's where the Advance Medical Directive comes in. Using their AMD, your teen can authorize you to discuss their healthcare with their providers (using a HIPAA waiver), and they can select a trusted adult to act as their healthcare proxy. A healthcare proxy is a person who is empowered to make medical decisions on an incapacitated person's behalf.

Does My Child Really Need an Estate Plan?

In addition to changing our expectations about the coming year, the pandemic has also made each of us a little more acutely aware of what can go wrong. We know that anyone can become sick at any time. We know that the virus impacts people differently. We know that some, even young, healthy people, are hit much harder than others. And we also know that medical decisions need to be made quickly, in real-time, to keep up with rapidly changing circumstances.

An estate plan for a teen serves slightly different functions than one for an adult with a home, a retirement account, and other assets. For a teen, the primary functions of an estate plan are those outlined in this blog post: financial and medical decision-making support. When your child turns 18, they all of the sudden become completely separate from your decision-making. A comprehensive estate plan can help preserve some of your involvement so that your teen knows that you can be there for them, no matter what might happen.

As a parent of a teen who is going to start moving out of the nest — whether they are literally moving away from college or they are staying home, but taking on more responsibility in their lives — it is important to teach our kids about the need to be prepared. We prepare so that we don't have to live in fear. Instead, we face the future head-on, make a plan, and then sleep soundly knowing that, no matter what happens, we have a plan.

If you and your teen are ready to make a plan, get in contact with us at The Tyra Law Firm. We are here to help!

About the Author

Neil Tyra

Noel's Husband, Bernadette's Dad, Clark's Father – My Three Best Roles So who am I and what am I about? First I was Noel's husband. I'm married (38 years and counting) to a long time resident of Rockville whose family goes back three generations.

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