Celebrate Good Times, C’mon…

In keeping with the song titles theme that Nathan started a month ago, this weekend was filled with graduation celebrations for many of us.  Despite the gloomy rain, we enjoyed the one we attended yesterday.  Pictures of the graduate from a tiny baby to a high schooler decorated the house, and it was amazing to us–deep in the trenches of raising kids–how fast that time goes by.

There are a number of articles and blog posts about the most unique or amazing gifts to give a recent graduate, but for parents of high school students, there is one very important gift to give your child: a medical health care power of attorney.

Sounds boring/scary, but kids that have turned 18 are no longer minors, and parents lose the right to speak to doctors or other medical professionals on their child’s behalf.  HIPAA rules provide for medical information to be discussed with parents of minors or spouses of adults—however, unmarried adults fall into a strange unprotected territory.

It may seem overly cautious to have your high school graduate sign a medical power of attorney, authorizing you to discuss your child’s medical situation with doctors or other professionals, but within the past two months, we have heard stories from our clients and other contacts where the document was sorely needed.  A few common scenarios:

  • An adult child goes to the emergency room for treatment, and parents are not allowed to join the child or hear status updates on the situation.
  • An adult child has a medical event, and the health insurance denies the claim. The parent receives a bill for the full amount of medical care (as they are the responsible party), but cannot gain any information about the claim itself as they are not authorized to obtain medical information about their child.
  • An adult child is traveling on a trip with friends and needs medical assistance. Neither the friends nor the parents can speak to the medical staff to authorize treatment.

We don’t write these scenarios to scare anyone into action—we’ve just been surprised to see how often the issue really does come up.  Thankfully, having your child sign a medical power of attorney document is fairly easy and very low cost.  In Virginia, the Virginia State Bar has drafted templates for easy use.  There are several choices, all vetted by Virginia State Bar members—our favorite is the Virginia Advance Medical Directive Form for Healthcare Decision Day.  Your teen just needs to name you in Option 1 as their agent, and sign in the presence of 2 non related witnesses.  That form also contains provisions about medical treatments to authorize or withhold, end of life decisions, and organ donor authorization, but each of those sections can be crossed out if you or your teen would rather not do those.

Alternatively, your family attorney can also quickly draft this form for your teen…

The Virginia State Bar also offers suggestions on where the document should be stored, but generally, once signed, it should be kept in a safe, yet accessible place.

This one quick document can save a lot of confusion, anxiety, and fear—so we’d highly recommend that parents sit their recent graduate down for a quick talk and a signature before the summer is over!

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