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Healthcare Power of Attorney: A Document Every 18 Year Old Should Have

As many of you know, earlier this year our Vice President of Operations, Rosalind Frazier, was devoted to caring for her daughter, Alex, after Alex was seriously injured in a car accident and required long-term medical treatment. When the accident happened, Alex was still 17 and Rosalind managed everything from doctor’s appointments to insurance claims. During her treatment, however, Alex turned 18, which meant her mother was no longer allowed automatic access to her health records and could no longer sign or submit paperwork on her behalf.

Fortunately, Rosalind and Alex were prepared for this change and had Alex’s Healthcare Power of Attorney ready to go on her 18th birthday. Without this important document, Rosalind wouldn’t have been able to help Alex with all of the critical decisions and paperwork that go along with medical treatment…and in the worst case scenario, Alex’s treatment might have been delayed.

To help ensure you and your loved ones are as prepared as Rosalind and Alex, we’ve invited Estate Planning attorney Tracy L. Zihmer of The Lynch Law Group back to share more detailed information about Healthcare Power of Attorneys. 

Healthcare Power of Attorney: A Document Every 18 Year Old Should Have

By Tracy Zihmer
Estate Planning Attorney
The Lynch Law Group

Many parents understand the importance of having a healthcare power of attorney in place in preparation for caring and making decisions for their elderly parents or even for their spouse. However, rarely do they understand how important the document can be when it comes to caring for their recent high school graduate, who is heading off to college at the end of the summer.

Once a “child” reaches the age of 18, he or she is no longer a child but a legal adult with all of the rights to privacy of any other legal adult. This includes the right to medial privacy under HIPPA. Parents that have been scheduling appointments, receiving test results, and making virtually all healthcare decisions for their child for the past 18 years suddenly find that they can no longer receive their child’s healthcare information so freely. 

This situation usually occurs when children go off to college or move away to start their first job and have a medical issue. Parents quickly learn that getting access to their child’s medical information and current medical condition can be challenging, frustrating and perhaps scary. This is especially true in healthcare organizations today, where medical staff have been trained to be afraid of legal action for releasing information to someone without authority to receive it. Simply put, if the child is not able to give permission for the nurse or doctor to release healthcare information to the parents, then that information will not be released.

The easiest way for parents and their adult child to avoid this situation is with a healthcare power of attorney. In this legal document, the child (the principal) appoints a person (called an agent), presumably a parent, to make healthcare decisions for him or her if he or she is unable to make those decisions. The document also allows the agent to obtain medical information about the principal. By planning ahead and signing a healthcare power of attorney, parents can avoid unnecessary stress when their adult child needs medical attention.