Five years ago, I wrote about the importance of having certain estate documents for your college-aged or single adult children. Revisiting this topic now seems as important as ever as we adopt to this new normal of pandemic living. College students are headed back to school and employees back to the office. With increasingly sobering news about the Delta variant making headlines daily (if not hourly), now is the time to get these documents in place should your single adult and college aged children have a medical emergency.
It’s the middle of the night and your phone rings. You know nothing good comes from a middle-of-the- night phone call. You are filled with dread as you pick up the phone. It’s your daughter’s college roommate giving you the heart-wrenching news that your daughter, Nora, has been rushed to the hospital. You hurriedly hang up and call the hospital. At last you connect with a nurse familiar with Nora’s situation. You wait with bated breath to hear the news, any news. The nurse informs you that because Nora is an ‘adult’ she cannot share any information with you due to HIPAA laws. After begging the nurse for information to no avail, your mind is spinning; how could I have let this happen? What could I have done to prevent this?
If your son or daughter is over the age of 18, HIPAA rules apply and you may not be able to get the information you need – even if your son or daughter is still on your health insurance plan. How do you avoid the stress of a sick or injured child and not having any information about their condition?
We recommend speaking to your attorney about drafting healthcare proxy and HIPAA authorization forms that are appropriate for your specific needs. A health care proxy names someone to make health care decisions and the HIPAA form allows for sharing of information otherwise not permitted under HIPAA privacy rules.
Your attorney may recommend a Durable Power of Attorney as well – this will allow you to act for your child on financial matters should your child became incapacitated. In the event your child is incapable of making financial decisions, a Durable Power of Attorney may give you access to pay bills, make investment decisions and file taxes on your child’s behalf. Each institution may require a separate form in addition to the drafted legal document.
The situation above is not only an issue for college-bound students, but also for your independent (or mostly-independent), single children. While your child is working and has responsibilities, talk to him or her about setting up the documents discussed above. These documents should be reviewed and likely updated at least every 5 years or sooner if his or her circumstances change.
My advice is to get these documents taken care of once your child is 18 – it will give you the peace of mind to send your child off on his/her/their own and that if something were to happen you will be able to intervene where needed. The pandemic has often left us feeling like we have very little control. This is one thing you can do now to reduce stress in an already stressful situation of a loved one needing medical attention.
You will never stop dreading the middle-of-the night phone call but with the proper health care documents in place, you can rest easy knowing you can access the information you need regarding your child’s condition.
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