Why You Need a Health Care Surrogate for Your Young Adult Child: An Unexpected Sports Injury
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
February 12, 2015
When you are a parent, it sometimes seems as though your children become young adults in the blink of an eye. Even if you have a hard time thinking of your college-aged son or daughter as a grownup, the law considers anyone over the age of 18 to be an adult, and will treat them accordingly. That means you may not be able to make medical or financial decisions for them without legal authorization. If you want to continue to be able to help your young adult son or daughter with health care and finances, it’s essential they execute a Health Care Surrogate.
A Health Care Surrogate is a legal document that appoints one or more people to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to do so yourself. Without the proper Health Care Surrogate in place, you may not be able to help your young adult offspring—even in the event of emergency. Unfortunately, college students and their parents frequently run into this type of problem. When it happened to the Randal family, they felt totally blindsided.
An Upsetting Technicality
Joe Randal had always been close to his daughter, Sarah. He never missed a single one of her lacrosse games, and was so proud when she got accepted into Brown University that he wore the college’s sweatshirt over his work clothes for three weeks in a row. He could hardly keep himself from crying on the drive home to Boston after dropping her off for her first day on her college campus.
Joe stayed pretty busy with work, but he never missed a chance to visit or call Sarah. In their latest phone call, Sarah told him she was enjoying college life, making friends, and had joined the Brown a capella choir and intramural lacrosse team.
Shortly after Sarah’s most recent phone call, however, Joe received a disturbing message from her roommate. According to her roommate, Sarah had suffered a head injury in a lacrosse game, and was being rushed to the emergency room in an ambulance.
Joe dropped the book he had been reading, hopped in his car, and drove straight to Providence from Boston without stopping. When he arrived at the hospital, he rushed up to the emergency room front desk. Breathlessly, he asked for a status update on his daughter’s condition… and the nurse told him she was not legally able to share this information with him.
Joe went ballistic. What the heck was she talking about? He was her father — didn’t she understand that? Why wouldn’t she just do her job? With the poised professionalism of someone who had dealt with this kind of situation many times before, the nurse explained to that since Sarah was 18, her parents didn’t have the right to know about her medical conditions or make treatment decisions on her behalf — she needed to sign a consent form if she wanted to give them this right. But Sarah—in her traumatized and pained state—was unable to give authorization necessary to allow her father information on her condition, so there was nothing the nurse could do. She had to follow HIPAA regulations.
As you might imagine, this did little to calm Joe down. After yelling at the nurse for several more minutes, he demanded to see her supervisor. She told him the same thing: blame HIPAA. So Joe called the police: HIPAA, HIPAA, HIPAA. His weariness and despair overtaking his anger, Joe finally gave up and trudged back to the nurses’ station.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Is there anything that I can do?” he asked.
The nurse pointed down the hall. “Get some coffee. And wait.” He nodded and thanked her, then settled in to do just that.
Fortunately, Sarah made a speedy recovery, and the two were reunited (with plenty of tears, on Joe’s part). As they left the hospital, Joe vowed that he would take special care to make sure a fiasco like this one never happened again.
Setting Up Health Care Surrogate for Your Young Family Members
It can be a traumatic experience when a family member falls victim to a medical emergency, but the situation can become even more distressing when you are powerless to help them, as Joe discovered.
Under the privacy rule in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), adult health information generally cannot be used or shared without written permission. College students are often covered by their parent’s health insurance, so it often comes as a shock when parents find they can’t legally access information about their medical condition. Even as their former guardians, parents have no more right to request medical information for their adult child than they would a stranger.
To prevent this kind of problem from happening in your family, it’s a good idea to have all unmarried young adults execute a Health Care Surrogate that allows parents to make medical and financial decisions on their behalf. This enables parents to help their young adult children through a variety of emergency situations, from making medical care decisions to wiring money to them from their bank account while they’re traveling overseas. In the case of an accident or illness, a Health Care Surrogate allows parents to make important—often life-altering— decisions.
If you have a young adult in your family, it’s in your family’s best interest to talk to an experienced estate planning attorney. A Florida attorney can help you navigate the process of preparing the Health Care Surrogate and other critical Advanced Care Directives, guide you through your options, and advocate on your behalf in the event that something goes awry.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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