This week’s blog is “breaking news” in the middle of the ongoing discussion of Legal Issues when someone has Dementia. In fact, this week’s blog takes a break from the over-arching audience of seniors and people with special needs. This week’s blog will address newly minted adults (i.e., 18 year olds.)
When a child reaches the age of 18, his or her parents no longer have the legal right to make his or her decisions. The parents may be able to insist on certain behaviors because the parents are paying the bills or because the 18 year old child/adult still lives at home, but this financial/housing influence doesn’t apply to the rest of the world. Perhaps most pointedly, the parents no longer have the right to make medical decisions.
Urge your 18 year old child to execute a Health Care Power of Attorney. (That’s what we call it in Ohio, where I practice. Other states may have a different name for this document.) A Health Care Power of Attorney appoints someone to speak for the person who signs it (in this discussion, the 18 year old person) on medical decisions when that person cannot speak for himself or herself.
Why can’t this young adult speak for himself or herself? Perhaps the young adult has been in a car accident. Perhaps the young adult has passed out from alcohol or drugs. Perhaps the young adult had a heart attack or serious infection that rendered him or her unconscious. Anything can happen. (A number of these new young adults are going away to college this month. Let’s face it. Some of these college freshmen will do stupid things.)
I suggest that the young adult name his or her mother and father as the Agents (what Ohio calls the appointees in a Health Care Power of Attorney.) If the young adult is moving away to school, I suggest that he or she also name as an Agent a relative or friend at the school or near to it.
As I’ve discussed in prior discussions about the Health Care Power of Attorney and other advance directives, I suggest that the Principal (the young adult in this case) name one agent and some successors. I do not suggest that anyone in the list be made co-agents. The possibility of disagreement between these Co-Agents is too high, and the result of disagreement is that no decision gets made.
In addition, because the Agents should be able to acquaint themselves with the Principal’s medical situation before an emergency arises, the Principal should sign a HIPAA (health information privacy) release naming all of the Agents (primary and successors) as eligible to receive information from the Principal’s primary care physician and any other medical professionals that have current medical information on the Principal. (For example, the records of an orthodontist who put braces on the Principal and has already removed the braces is probably not important to the Agents.) I would not limit the HIPAA release to just the primary Agent. The Principal does not know which of the Agents (primary or successor) will actually be the one making decisions in a time of crisis because the Principal does not know when that time of crisis will be (if ever) and does not know which of the Agents will be available at the time of the Principal’s crisis.
Remember, we hope that the young adult (the Principal) never needs anyone to use the Health Care Power of Attorney. It is, however, better to have the Health Care Power of Attorney in place and not to need it than to need it and not have it.
Ohio has a Health Care Power of Attorney form, and I suggest that the Principal use this form if he or she is an Ohio resident or is going to school in Ohio. Remember, when someone needs to use a Health Care Power of Attorney, the Principal might easily be in an emergency situation. Medical professionals throughout Ohio are familiar with the Ohio form Health Care Power of Attorney. If a patient has a Health Care Power of Attorney that is not on a recognized form, the medical professional may feel the need to check with his or her attorney on the legality of the POA. Checking with the attorney can delay the medical treatment. I like to use the recognized form to avoid this legal advice delay.
Ohio’s form Health Care Power of Attorney is available on my website behind the Toolbox tab. (I can’t give you links because my version of WordPress doesn’t like me to use links in posts. Sorry.)