Why You Should Have A Health Care Power Of Attorney For Your 18-Year-Old

by Catherine Hodder
Originally Published: 
An 18-year-old boy sitting with his health care power of attorney
skynesher / Getty

Congrats on your child reaching adulthood! They may be still living with you, venturing off to college, or traveling the world. One thing to keep in mind as they leave the nest is how to get medical information on your child. This is especially important if they are injured in another country, state, or town.

Once your child turns 18, they are considered a legal adult (despite your misgivings about that). If they are injured or hospitalized, it may be hard to get medical information on them. Due to restrictive HIPAA laws, doctors and hospitals are reluctant to release medical information without a health care power of attorney document.

You may not get information even though you are footing the bill for their medical expenses. Without permission from your child, you might not be able to speak with their doctors about prescriptions and medical issues.

You have two options. You can get a HIPAA release form for every conceivable doctor they might see. This can be difficult and burdensome. A better choice is to have your child name you as their “health care surrogate” on a health care power of attorney form.

What is a health care power of attorney?

A health care power of attorney is a legal document in which you name someone you trust to have access to your health information and to make all the decisions relating to your care and comfort in the event of your incapacity. The person you name is called a “health care surrogate” or “health care proxy.”

If you are incapacitated, it means you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. The incapacity could be short-term such as temporarily losing consciousness in a car accident. Or it could be long-term such as a having a severe stroke or being in a coma.

How does it help?

When your child designates you as their health care surrogate, you now have the authority to step in, talk to doctors, and make medical decisions for your child. You should have this authority as “next of kin.” However, if you aren’t physically present, medical facilities may insist on seeing a health care power of attorney. Having this document eliminates the hassle of dealing with red tape when you want to focus on your child’s care.

Where can I get one?

Health care power of attorney forms can be found online, but check with your particular state about their specific requirements. Some states have their preferred health care power of attorney forms. There may be different names for the health care power of attorney form. An estate planning attorney can also draft health care power of attorney documents and discuss with you how it works.

How long does it last?

A health care power of attorney lasts as long as your child wants you to be their health care surrogate. They can change the document when they get married or want to name a different health care surrogate. It is a good idea to have them designate an alternate health care surrogate if you are unavailable. The health care surrogate would not be effective once your child died or if their health care surrogates are deceased.

Once you have a health care power of attorney on your adult child, you will have access to their medical information and care if they are incapacitated. Let them go into the world with some peace of mind that you are still able to care for them if needed.

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