The Importance of a Health Care Proxy Document for College-Aged Children

The Importance of a Health Care Proxy Document for College-Aged Children
From the December 2009 Riker Danzig Tax and Trusts & Estates UPDATE

Once your children are adults (that's age 18 in most states), even if they are still financially dependent on you, you cannot get access to their medical information or make health care decisions for them without their permission. Moreover, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") imposes high standards of patient privacy on hospitals, physicians and other health care providers. Because of this, medical providers will generally not provide medical information to anyone without the authority of the patient. This can come as quite a surprise to parents who are anxious to obtain information regarding the condition and treatment of a college-aged child.

In order to ensure that parents can get medical information on behalf of their college-aged child, and make medical decisions for them in an emergency, it is advisable to have your child sign what is commonly called an "Advance Directive". The Advance Directive often contains two parts: (1) a Health Care Proxy, which appoints an agent to make medical decisions on the child's behalf in the event he or she is unable to do so and also allows the agent to get access to the child's health care information; and (2) a Living Will, which contains directives concerning end-of-life decisions, although young adults often elect to leave out the Living Will portion. The Advance Directive form is relatively simple, and it can be extremely helpful if a child becomes sick or injured. Parents with young adult children are encouraged to discuss this document with them.