According to a July 30, 2019 news report by the Washington Post, some parents are resorting to drastic measures in order to meet skyrocketing college costs. They are arranging for others to take custody of their children through guardianship proceedings to qualify for financial aid.

This is particularly relevant in Washington State, which recently enacted new laws to make college more affordable. For wealthier individuals, having less well-healed loved ones act as guardian can help ensure access to state and federal programs.

Washington State Launches ‘Free College’ Plan

In May of 2019, the Washington Legislature enacted the Workforce Education Investment Act. Under the program, families with income under $60,000 may be eligible for full scholarships. Those making over this amount and up to $88,000 will be eligible for partial aid.

Close to 40,000 students are expected to receive help through the program over the next several years. It has prompted criticism from parents who fall outside of the program’s income guidelines. These families will continue to pay the full costs for their child’s education.

Guardianship as a Way to Qualify for College Aid

Parents in Washington State and other areas where income based free college tuition plans apply are considering other options to qualify for benefits. One of these involves transferring guardianship of their child to friends or family who fall within income guidelines.

“A guardianship is a serious matter and not something to enter into lightly,” says Washington State estate planning attorney William S. Hickman at the law office of Hickman Menashe, P.S. “In addition to having these proceedings appear on the public record, you are basically entering into them on a fraudulent basis.”

Guardianship proceedings through the Washington Courts are generally used to protect a vulnerable individual. “A guardianship may be used with children who lost their parents or with young adults who suffer disabilities,” says Hickman. “They may also be used in situations where an older adult suffers from conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.” Using a guardianship for other reasons could ruin your reputation and subject you to criminal penalties. Hickman advises consulting with an estate planning attorney to explore other options.