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Important Documents for Your Children

By Myra Gerson Gilfix

For 30 years, we have been advising our clients to have their children sign some vital documents when they become 18 years of age.

The fact is that anything can happen to anybody at any time. By no means are 18 year-olds an exception to the rule. Some would say that their behavior proves the rule every day!

Parents who have been consistently in the loop for their child’s medical care don’t always realize that once a child becomes 18, they may suddenly be considered no more than strangers to medical professionals involved in that now-adult child’s emergency care. They need to consider the possible implications of that milestone birthday.

Parents can find it particularly stressful when a college student child is, for example, in an accident. Health care providers may cite HIPAA (federal legislation protecting privacy) as a reason not to allow parents access to information about an ill or unconscious child. In fact, sometimes parents aren’t even informed that the child is hurt or ill because the child is legally an adult. Parents and their young-adult children need to think about the unthinkable in advance. Three forms—HIPAA authorization, Advance Health Care Directive, and a Durable Power of Attorney—will help facilitate the involvement of a parent or other trusted adult in a medical emergency.

A Durable Power of Attorney enables someone to act on behalf of the person signing the document if he becomes incapacitated. It enables a parent or other designated agent to take care of business on the student’s behalf. If the student were to become incapacitated or if the student were studying abroad, the person named as agent in a Durable Power of Attorney would be able, for example, to sign tax returns, access bank accounts, and pay bills.

The Advance Directive gives authority to a chosen agent to communicate with doctors and other medical professionals and to make health care decisions when necessary.

A signed HIPAA Authorization will make it crystal clear that a parent (or other trusted person) can be kept in the information loop. It is like a permission slip. It permits health-care providers to disclose the child’s health information to anyone specified. A stand-alone HIPAA authorization (not incorporated into another legal document) does not have to be notarized or witnessed. This document alone, signed in advance by your child, will suffice to allow you to get information from the doctors and nurses at a far-away hospital. Young people who want parents to be involved in a medical emergency, but don’t want sensitive information disclosed, should not be deterred because the HIPAA authorization does not have to be all-encompassing They can specify not to disclose information about sex, drugs, mental health, or other details they want kept private.

We hope that you will take this very seriously and allow us to take these protective steps on behalf of your children.

To do so, we will have to communicate with your children. We will need to know whom they want to be named in these documents. Who knows, it may be you.

Once the forms are completed, scan and save them so that they are readily available on a smart phone or home computer.

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