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Whose income will go on my grandson's financial aid application?

January 30, 2012: 5:05 AM ET

My husband and I have been the legal guardians of our grandson since he was a young boy. He is currently in the 11th grade and making plans for college. When he graduates from high school we will no longer be his guardians, legally. His father is unemployed, and his mother works in a minimum wage job. He will not reside with either of his parents. Will he have to put our income or any income his mother makes on his applications for financial aid? – Name withheld

Regarding your income, grandparent cash flow won't be included on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) unless they've legally adopted the student, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of financial aid websites and So you're in the clear.

As long as you and your husband are the court-ordered legal guardians of your grandson, he'll be treated as an independent student on the FAFSA, which means that there's no parental income or asset information included. "However, any financial support the parents or guardians provide to the student are reported on the FAFSA as untaxed income to the student," Kantrowitz says.

If the legal guardianship wasn't determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in the student's state of legal residence, you should contact each college's financial aid administrator and ask for a dependency override. "Explain the reasons why the student was placed in a legal guardianship, and discuss the contact he's had with his parents and any support he's received from them," Kantrowitz says. "Sometimes the reasons behind the guardianship are enough for the colleges to change the student's status to independent." It may help to provide a copy of letters from social workers, clergy, guidance counselors, and others who are familiar with the situation. Once each college makes its decision, there is no appealing it.

If you can't achieve a dependency override, then your grandson will be considered a dependent and a parent — typically the one providing the most support — will have to complete the FAFSA. "But given that his mother works a minimum wage job, he will probably qualify for a Pell Grant and other financial aid," Kantrowitz says.

— Kate Ashford

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