As we continue reviewing estate planning fundamentals, let’s consider last week’s Best Practices Estate Planning tip posted on Facebook: “Every adult, regardless of age and income level, needs a healthcare power of attorney.”
Young adults, and even their parents, may think this is going overboard, especially if they live at home. Yet, an adult with capacity has the right to make healthcare decisions on his or her own and also has a right of privacy regarding those healthcare decisions and his or her medical information. Recently, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was revised, increasing the privacy guards around the release of medical records and, thus, making it much more difficult for parents or next of kin to obtain this information and, especially to make medical decisions for adult children, without the requisite authority.
Human beings experience a myriad of conditions and ailments, some of which we do not want our parents to know about, some of which we only want our parents to know about. Conversely, parents should share important medical history with children, so that children are well-informed about potential conditions that they or their children could experience as a result of inherited genes. Sometimes we don’t know about an inherited medical condition until an accident occurs. If, however, Mom is in an accident and hasn’t designated an adult child a Personal Representative on the HIPAA form, her adult child may not learn this important information.
Like the property power of attorney, the healthcare power of attorney is a critical document for single parents with minor children. A minor child cannot be a healthcare power of attorney agent or a HIPAA personal representative and, if a minor is one’s only next of kin, then the document is even more important. Also similar to the property power of attorney, the agent’s authority for a healthcare power of attorney does not have to be effective immediately. However, language should consider emergency situations. Finally, if you’re considering separation or divorce, you should seriously consider executing powers of attorney that designate someone other than your spouse as the agent and personal representative. Do you really want someone who is going to be an ex-spouse to have the authority to “pull the plug”?
So to round out the knowledge and authority needed for minimum estate planning protection, be sure to start the New Year with your property and healthcare power of attorney signed and tucked away.