Who Makes Health Care or Financial Decisions for You or Your Family in a Pandemic?

Filed under: Estate Planning

It is no secret that we have entered a new world, and in times of crisis most of us share similar fears and concerns. We are all worried about our families, our friends, and our financial well being. We all are asking ourselves the same questions: What happens if I get sick? What happens if my children, spouse or other relatives get sick, become incapacitated or even die? In times of crisis (especially a health crisis) there is no substitute for having good information and planning ahead. Is your family prepared?

Until now, it is unlikely that you picture your children or spouse enduring a serious medical emergency. If you do, you write it off as normal parental or familial anxiety. But the unfortunate truth is that, yes, anyone of any age could be effected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Due to HIPAA regulations, you might be shocked to discover that the hospital will not discuss your child’s treatment, nor allow you to make certain decisions regarding their medical care, if he or she has reached age 18. This is true even if your child is still covered by your family health insurance plan, and it is also true relative to decisions regarding your spouse, parents, or family friends.

If your adult child, spouse or parent is conscious and able to sign a document, they can give authorization to share details of their treatment with you (or with anyone else of their choosing). This obviously isn’t an option if your adult child, spouse or parent is unconscious, intubated, in too much pain, or sedated for treatment. You all might find yourselves wishing this authorization could have been given at some prior time.

With proper planning you can do exactly that. Here are key documents that can save you undue disruption and heartache, should a time come when you will need them.

HIPAA Authorization. Your relative or even a close friend can sign this form and file it with their primary medical provider. If your child, spouse, parent or friend names you on the document, doctors and nurses can discuss their medical care with you. If your relative or friend is nervous about privacy issues, remind them that only information pertinent to the emergency will be discussed. A HIPAA authorization does not necessarily grant you free access to their entire medical file. Your child can specify that sensitive information about their sex life or mental health treatment, for example, are not to be shared.

Advance Health Care Directive. An Advance Health Care Directive provides a medical power of attorney that means you will be able to make medical decisions on behalf of your child, spouse, parent or friends, in the event that he or she is incapacitated. This document also states the individual’s wishes regarding life-sustaining interventions, end of life decisions, and even organ donor wishes.

Durable power of attorney. Durable power of attorney extends rights a bit further, allowing you to take care of financial matters and other non-medical matters during your friend or relative’s illness. You can take care of certain important matters, like filing taxes, paying bills, managing student loan money, and so on.

If you have a son or daughter who has returned home from college, is just turning 18, or any one close to you that does not already have these documents in place, discuss the importance of these matters.

During this time of incredible uncertainty our attorneys stand ready to assist you with all of your immediate estate planning needs. We are currently available for remote meetings and available to answer your questions. In times of crisis and uncertainty information is power, and there is no substitute for good planning. We are here to help.

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