Preparing for a Medical Emergency

Many college students and parents don't realize that when students turn 18, they are considered legal adults able to register for the selective service, vote, control finances, authorize health care and control access to academic records. Even when adult children are financially dependent and still insured by their parents' health plans, the law considers them full agents with authority over important decisions. After almost two decades of protecting, authorizing, and advising, parents abruptly lose their legal right to involvement and access to information in their children's decision-making and medical care.  

Nobody plans a medical emergency. The very nature of an accident involves an unpredictable, unintended, unplanned, and unwanted incident. It is hard to think about and prepare for the unthinkable ahead of time. However, medical emergencies do happen. While we can't always prevent or plan, we can proactively facilitate parent's ability to access essential information and participate in critical decision making.  

Three legal forms enable parents to maintain access to children's records and medical status after the age of 18. Understanding and completing forms assigning access and decision making ahead of time can help families be better prepared for medical accidents or acute illness if they occur.

1. Healthcare Proxy (also referred to as medical power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, or durable power of attorney for health care)

This form authorizes someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. It gives a designated person access to your medical records and the ability to converse with your medical staff and medical providers. By signing this form, you are allowing an appointed person to also act on your behalf if you cannot make medical decisions yourself.

Each state has different laws that govern healthcare proxy forms. Some states require the form to be notarized, while others only require a witness(s). When students go to college out of state, it is optimal to complete forms required by the state of residence, and the college is located. 

2. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) Authorization

This form permits healthcare providers to disclose your health information to anyone you specify. A HIPAA authorization does not have to be notarized or witnessed. Although this document alone will often suffice for parents to get information from the health care providers and institutions, it is not always feasible to complete in a state of emergency. Young adults can use this form to specify whether they don't want to release information about sex, drugs, mental health, or other details they prefer to keep private. 

3. Durable Power of Attorney (Durable POA)

This form authorizes another person to make financial decisions on their child's behalf. The POA can specify whether authority assumes immediately or only upon incapacitation.

A POA enables the authorized person to sign tax returns, access bank accounts, pay bills, make changes to financial aid or figure out tuition problems. POA forms vary by state, and in some states, a Durable POA also includes a Health Care Proxy.

Regulations and standardized forms used for naming Health Care Agents vary by state. In addition, each state has different requirements regarding whether forms need to be notarized or witnessed to be considered valid.

Most states include forms for naming a Health Care Proxy or Health Care Durable Power of Attorney in state sanctioned Advance Directives packets. Many of these forms are included in Living Wills that allow adults to make decisions ahead of tine pertaining to emergency medical care, life sustaining interventions, organ donations and assignment of health care and financial agents.

The following section provides forms that can be used to name a Health Care Agent in every state. Laws that govern Health Care Proxy and Durable Power of Attorney do change. Therefore, forms included in this program may need amendment. It is always advised to consult with an attorney when executing Health Care Proxy, Durable Attorney, Living Will or any other Advance Directives.