Why you need a health care power of attorney for your college-age child ASAP!


Imagine: your daughter has has left for her first year of college, and within weeks of arriving, is involved in an accident that leaves her in the hospital.

As her parent you have been her legal guardian for 18 years. You pay thousands for her health insurance and tuition.

You might think that her school, her doctors, and even the hospital billing department should be obligated to talk to you.

You might be surprised to learn that they aren’t.

When I first learned about the realities of this scenario faced by thousands of parents every year from Southeast Michigan attorney Jennifer Latimer, I knew I had to share it here.

Planning is an important part of getting well, and maintaining health. To get the full details, I asked Ms. Latimer, who specializes in these kinds of cases, how parents and families can protect themselves.

Keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are in Southeast Michigan, and want full information on how to protect yourself and your family, I suggest contacting Jennifer Latimer who was kind enough to give us this free advice.

Her contact information is below.

Jennifer Latimer, Southeast Michigan Legal Expert on Power of Attorney, Wills, and Trusts and Estates

Jennifer Latimer, Southeast Michigan Legal Expert on Power of Attorney, Wills, and Trusts and Estates (248) 505-5129

What is the biggest misconception that parents have about their child’s health when they go away to college?

Latimer: The biggest misconception is that parents have any right to discuss health or financial matters with their child’s doctor or school.

This is a huge surprise to parents who have recently had a child turn 18.  Just because you are paying for your child’s health care insurance, out-of-pocket health care expenses, and your child’s tuition, that doesn’t meant that these institutions have an obligation to talk to you or allow you to make decisions on behalf of your child.

The law says that they don’t. And in fact, if they do, they may be taking on a liability or violation of privacy laws. So a lot of schools, hospitals, doctors, etc., just say “We cannot talk to you” without your child’s permission.

I can imagine a lot of scenarios where this could become a nightmare. Especially in the case of an emergency where the child is going to school out of town and they cannot make decisions for themselves.

Latimer: Yes, it can be. Once the child turns 18 years old, the family needs to have a health care power of attorney document in place to make sure something like this doesn’t happen.

Naming the parent with the power of attorney will allow mom or dad to talk health concerns with a doctor, hospital, or insurance company for their son or daughter. Even if that 18 year old and older child cannot speak for him or herself.

Also, you asked about parents. But, keep in mind that the power of attorney doesn’t just have to name a parent. Anyone the family or child wishes can be given the legal right to speak on behalf of the child.

Grandparents, godparents, family friends, etc, can all be named.

So, once you have this power of attorney document in place, how does it work after that?

Latimer: All the parent has to do is tell the doctor’s office, school, or health insurance rep that the power of attorney is place, and produce the document. This is important, because if your child is at a place where they cannot sign a consent, this document needs to already by drafted for it to work.

Here’s a tip: some doctor’s offices and many health insurance companies may not tell you that they could talk to you with a power of attorney. They won’t volunteer that information. Just let them know you have one and fax them the document.

If I am a parent and I have a power of attorney in place to make health care decisions for my college student, does that cover financial issues as well?

Latimer: No, and this can be a big problem unless the right kind of document is drafted. A health care power of attorney gives you responsibility for questions of health care decisions. Believe it or not, that has nothing to do with financial matters. So, a hospital, for example, may be able to discuss an emergency room treatment, but not the cost. Same thing for a health insurance company.

As crazy as it sounds, it’s true. A health care power of attorney and a financial power of attorney both need to be drafted to cover both ends.

What is the worst case scenario for parents who don’t have a power of attorney?

Latimer: In a worse case scenario their child can’t consent for a power of attorney and they are already in some kind of health care crisis.

Let’s say they are in a coma in another state.

The parents or the guardian may have to petition the probate court for guardianship of their 18 year or older child again. Not only is this an incredible emotional stress, but it can cost thousands of dollars, and a lot of lost time.

Having a power of attorney in place before something like this happens is important. Of course many people put it off because they think “This will never happen to my family”. But sometimes it does happen to your family.

How does this information apply beyond just moms, dads, and kids?

Latimer: There is another huge misconception when it comes to married couples, especially older married couples that have have been making decisions for each other for decades.

Without an explicit power of attorney in place, a husband or wife don’t echnically have the legal authority to make health decisions for each other in the event that one of them can’t make decisions for themselves.  It doesn’t matter if they have been married for 50 years.

It is not uncommon to see older married couples going through probate court so that they can legally make decisions for an ailing spouse who cannot make that decision for him or herself.

Again, it can be really painful and stressful situation. It is important for couples to have this power of attorney in place, and to talk about end of life directives while they can, before they become a reality.

If someone wants more information, what can do they do? Can’t they just draft these documents online?

Latimer: I am sure there are plenty of power of attorney documents online. However, I have seen many that people have brought me, wanting me to notarize them, and many are incomplete. That is why I will not notarize any power of attorney document someone finds on the Internet. It may not be written correctly, or be up-to-date enough to be effective. If you are going to the trouble to get these documents together, spend a little bit more and put your mind at ease.

Get them done right.

If someone wants more information from Attorney Jennifer Latimer, they can schedule a consultation with her in Southfield, MI or St. Claire Shores, MI by calling the office at (248) 505-5129.

Written by Dr. Ward

Father. Foodie. And dedicated upper cervical chiropractor. Find me practicing gentle upper cervical care in Oakland County, Michigan. Have a question or comment? I'm at your service. Reach me at my Auburn Hills chiropractic practice: (248) 598-4002. Or on Google +, Facebook, or Twitter.

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