Authority to make educational decisions for adult students

When a student reaches the age of majority in Maine, at age 18, the student gains the right to make his or her own educational decisions. However, a parent or other adult may obtain authority over those decisions if the parent or other adult (1) obtains guardianship over the student or (2) obtains a valid power of attorney from the student.

In the past, school administrative units generally have not allowed parents to make decisions for adult children unless they had guardianship of that student; a power of attorney was not considered sufficient to confer decision-making authority over education matters. In 2010, however, the Maine Uniform Power of Attorney Act (MUPAA) took effect. MUPAA was designed to establish general principles about powers of attorney, including settling questions about the extent of authority conferred by them.

In 2011, a legislator sought to amend Title 20-A to specifically state that a power of attorney grants authority to make educational decisions on behalf of a student who is 18 years old or older. The Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary, after consulting with the Probate and Trust Law Advisory Commission, declined to pass the legislation because they believed it was unnecessary and duplicative of the MUPAA. In other words, they believe that the MUPAA already ensures that a validly-executed power of attorney confers authority over educational decision-making.

Rather than pass duplicative legislation, the Judiciary Committee directed Maine DOE to send a letter to school administrative units to clarify that guardianship of an adult student is not required in order for the parent (or other adult) to make decisions about a student’s education. That is the purpose of this Administrative Letter.

Citing an interpretive letter from the Maine Probate and Trust Law Advisory Commission, the Committee sent a letter to the Department stating that sections of MUPAA, read together, “provide authority for the agent (the parent) under a power of attorney to provide funds for appropriate education, …of the principal (the student), and ‘with respect to that subject’ (appropriate education), contract with any person on behalf of the principal, communicate with any governmental subdivision on behalf of the principal, and do any other lawful act with respect to the subject.”

The Committee letter also noted that the MUPAA provides procedures to follow if a person doubts the validity of a power of attorney and liability for failure to honor a power of attorney.

As with all legal matters, if you have questions about the application of laws to specific situations, you need to consult with your attorney. The Department is providing the information in this letter to communicate the interpretation of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee of Maine law, the Maine Uniform Power of Attorney Act.

For more information, contact Maine DOE Director of Policy and Programs Deborah Friedman at deborah.friedman@maine.gov or 207- 624-6612.