Why Your College-Bound Kid Needs a Health Care Surrogate
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
March 12, 2015
Confident, optimistic, and eager to take on the world, your college-bound child might not be thrilled with the idea of signing away even a small bit of privacy to their parents. And you might wonder why your adult child needs a health care surrogate. But if they leave for college without signing a Health Care Surrogate, the consequences could be unfavorable and upsetting for both of you.
Many parents have a hard time seeing their 18-year-old child as an adult. But when someone reaches the age of majority—18 in Florida—they are considered an adult in the eyes of the law. Once your child reaches 18, you may no longer be able to see his or her medical and financial records or make important decisions on his or her behalf.
That’s why it’s so critical for young adults to set up a Health Care Surrogate that allows their parents to make medical and financial judgments in the event they are unable to do so. Without this document in place, medical professionals may refuse to provide you with information on your young adult child—even if they are seriously injured. This is was precisely the upsetting nightmare that the Daniels family experienced.
When a Party Ends in the Emergency Room
It was a proud day for Tristan and Lucy Daniels when they sent their youngest son Nick off to college, but neither could completely shake a feeling of unease. He was only 17, after all.
Nick was the youngest of Tristan and Lucy’s four children, and had always been the most stubborn and mischievous. He was a smart boy, but had landed himself in trouble for smoking, trespassing, and cutting class a few times during high school. Nick was so excited when he was accepted to UC Berkley, and his parents hoped this meant he was ready to turn over a new leaf and start acting more responsibly.
“Be good, Nick!” his mother called as Nick backed out of their driveway, his car loaded with boxes of clothes, Ikea furniture, and his drum kit.
“I will,” Nick shouted back at her, giving his parents a final wave before zooming off into the bright morning towards California.
Nick kept his promise for the most part, getting good grades and calling his parents every week. On the morning of his 18th birthday, he called his parents to thank them for the present they’d sent him—a brand new electric guitar and a care package with treats and cupcakes Lucy had baked herself. When his parents asked their son how he planned to celebrate, Nick told them he was having a small get-together in his friend’s house off-campus—nothing too crazy, he assured them.
The Daniels were happy to learn that Nick was making friends, and didn’t think anything of the gathering until their ringing phone startled them awake at 2 AM. It was their second-youngest child, Elise.
“I just got a text from Nick’s friend,” Elise told them breathlessly. “Nick’s in the emergency room… Something happened at his birthday party.”
Elise couldn’t tell them anything else. Frantically, Lucy began calling up Nick’s friends, listening to voicemail message after voicemail message until giving up. As Lucy dialed, a million questions ran through her head. What had happened at the party? Was it alcohol poisoning? A drunk driving accident? A fight? Drug overdose? Nick wouldn’t do drugs… would he?
Meanwhile, Tristan was on hold with the hospital.
“What do you mean, you’re not allowed to give me that kind of information?” he roared into the phone after someone finally picked up. “I’m his father! I pay his college tuition! He’s under my insurance plan! He’s barely even 18!”
The nurse told him firmly that since Tristan was legally an adult, they couldn’t disclose private information about his health—even to his parents. She explained that under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), they were unable to share information that would violate a patient’s privacy.
Tristan and Lucy were terrified. They were thousands of miles away from their son, without any way to help him or even learn what was happening. They felt helpless.
Fortunately, once Nick regained consciousness, he immediately gave the hospital permission to disclose information to his parents. Apparently, there had been alcohol at the party, and Nick had drunk a little too much. On the phone, he apologized to his parents profusely, promising to behave more responsibly in the future.
Avoid Additional Trauma during an Emergency with a Health Care Surrogate
For Tristan and Lucy, it was frightening to learn their son had suffered alcohol poisoning. However, it had been even more frightening to learn that they weren’t in a position to help him or even receive information on his condition.
The Daniels’ distressing experience could have been prevented had the family taken time to set up a Health Care Surrogate. By signing this type of document, Nick could have granted his parents the power to make health and financial decisions on his behalf for times when he was unable to make decisions on his own.
Should your young adult child ever be faced with a health problem or other emergency situation, a Health Care Surrogate can ensure you’re able to lawfully obtain important information about their status and make decisions if they are incapacitated or otherwise unable to do so. Depending on how it’s drafted, a Health Care Surrogate can give you the ability to make health care decisions on their behalf. Like a Power of Attorney, which grants a trusted person the ability to act on your behalf with respect to financial and administrative affairs (such as paying bills and taxes), the Health Care Surrogate is a powerful document that should be considered and created carefully. Accordingly, it’s crucial to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure your Health Care Surrogate and Power of Attorney are drafted properly and in a way that best suits your family’s unique needs and goals.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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