In Ohio, when your children turn 18, they become adults, legally speaking. They might not act like adults all (or even some) of the time, and you may still be supporting them financially, but in the eyes of the law, they are indeed adults. This means that you can no longer make certain decisions for them, including health care decisions. Furthermore, you can no longer obtain medical information about your adult children without their authorization—even in an emergency.
Consider the following scenario: your daughter is away at college and gets severely injured in a car accident. When you become aware of what has happened, you immediately call the hospital for information about her condition, but nobody will tell you anything. This is because the law—specifically, a statute enacted in 1996 called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—prevents the disclosure of a patient’s health information without the patient’s consent. The hospital in question could be prosecuted for violating the HIPAA rules.
This potential roadblock is why your adult children need a legal document called a HIPAA Release. It allows them to list the people who are permitted to receive medical information about them.
Another crucial legal document your adult children need is a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA). It allows them to name a person they trust (e.g. a parent, sibling, or spouse) to make health care decisions on their behalf if they cannot do so themselves. Medical decisions covered by a HCPOA can include the types of treatments allowed in an end-of-life situation, such as the use of a feeding tube, as well as do not resuscitate orders.
Similarly, a General Power of Attorney, sometimes called a Financial Power of Attorney, allows your adult children to designate a trusted individual to make financial decisions if they cannot make them on their own. This document can also give authority for matters beyond financial/assets, including personal property, digital assets, and taxes.
If your adult children have their own Powers of Attorney, and they name you as their agent in the documents, you will be able to make medical and financial decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated. If you are named in your adult children’s HIPAA release, you can get medical information about their condition in an emergency. Without these documents, however, you may be stuck, forced to get a court-supervised guardianship in order to access information and make decisions.
These simple (but important!) documents will help streamline the process and reduce the stress and cost in what is otherwise an extremely difficult situation.
If you’d like to talk to one of our Estate Planning attorneys about Powers of Attorney or HIPAA releases, separately or as part of an overall estate plan, don’t hesitate to contact us. As we say… Let’s Talk!