With school back in session, it’s important to understand how your ability to make important family healthcare decisions changes once your child turns 18. After this birthday, children are considered legal adults. With federal laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also known as “HIPAA”, adults now have increasingly strict privacy protections. As a result, you could be legally prevented from inquiring about or acting on behalf of your son or daughter in an emergency.
The Wall Street Journal reported a story where a family dropped their daughter off for her freshman year of college. After several days of no communication the family became concerned, reaching out to school officials and a hospital near campus. After only being able to retrieve limited information due to privacy concerns, they arrived at the hospital to find their daughter had been in a coma for three days after a spider bite. A quarter-million 18-25 year old’s are hospitalized each year for non-lethal injuries. While many heal quickly and move forward, some are not as fortunate. Accidents are the leading cause of death for young adults and few parents want to imagine this type of scenario occurring to their loved ones. However, these unplanned events are a reality. There are more than just college students at risk. While adulthood is reached at age 18, the average U.S. adult does not marry until their late 20’s. During this gap before they wed there is not a legally responsible party besides themselves, as they do not have a spouse. This can be a dangerous situation for you and them. Many parents wrongly assume they will maintain the legal ability for making life decisions on behalf of their children for their entire lives. This is a risky assumption to make. The lack of a power of attorney can limit your ability to influence patient care, especially during time-sensitive moments. To protect your family there are steps you can take to prepare for these situations.
Health-care Power of Attorney
While you may associate a health-care power of attorney with older parents, it is equally as important to explore for your children. This allows parents or designated individuals to receive information and make health care decisions on behalf of their loved ones. There are two types of powers of attorney to consider: springing and durable. A springing power of attorney requires certain circumstances occur before it is enforceable. Proving these situations occurred can be difficult and may slow the process during a critical decision. In contrast, a durable power of attorney is effective immediately upon execution. Since there is less ambiguity surrounding durable powers of attorney, this is the more common of the two. In this document you may also want to consider including language to waive the protections and confidentiality offered by HIPPA, allowing medical professionals to provide crucial information to your designated agent without restriction.
While no parent wants to image this type of scenario, having the discussion with your adult child about unforeseen events and the need for a power of attorney may provide you both peace of mind. Including this as one of the items in your back-to-school “to-do’s” is an important step all parents should consider. As always, we recommend you consult your own attorney to understand how this may applicable to your specific situation. If you need an introduction to an attorney, don’t hesitate to reach out.