You know the saying, expect the best, prepare for the worst. But when it comes to your child’s well-being, even thinking about the worst is, well, almost unthinkable.
But start thinking, because the unexpected happens and preparation is essential. Imagine that your son or daughter is leaving home, maybe for college or a new job or even gap-year travel. Then imagine there’s a medical emergency. Perhaps a bike or car accident, a sports injury or a serious illness.
When your child is an adult — 18 or older in most states — the law may prevent you from making critical medical decisions or even gaining access to medical information. And it doesn’t matter whether your child is included on your medical insurance or is a dependent on your tax return.
Horror stories abound. In one case, a young man fell seriously ill while attending college out of state. The hospital called his mother to inform her that her son had been admitted, but refused to provide details, citing privacy laws.
In another, the child was involved in an auto accident several states away. Her parents could not be consulted regarding important medical decisions, due to the lack of legal authority.
To prevent this from happening in your family, there are critical legal documents you need to complete before your child heads out.
Health Care Directive or Medical Power of Attorney
A health care directive — also known as a medical power of attorney or healthcare proxy — conveys the power to make medical decisions on behalf of another person when that person is unable to do so. In this case, it allows the parents of an adult child (or another designated person) the authority to make those medical decisions on the part of that child.
Without a signed health care directive, a parent might need to gain the approval of a court to act on behalf of an adult child.
The health care directive document and legal details can vary from state to state. If you and your child live in different states, consider completing the documents for both states to avoid potential issues. If your child is a student, the college or university may have its own version of the document.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, includes a privacy rule that generally prevents doctors, nurses, hospital staff and other medical professionals from disclosing a patient’s medical information.
There is a limited exception where the information can be provided to a parent or family member if, based on professional judgment, its disclosure is considered to be in the patient’s best interest.
Since it is discretionary, in many cases the information is not made available to parents.
The HIPPA authorization can typically be included as part of the health care directive.
Steps to Take
You can typically find free versions of the health care directive and HIPPA authorization documents online. However, as the rules are subject to change on a state-by-state basis, you might want to consult with your attorney.
As a side note, these documents are also valuable in the case of aging parents or other adult family members who might need your help with medical matters.
It’s always better to be safe (and prepared) than sorry.
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