Estate Planning

Urgent: Covid-19 and Your 18+ Year Old [VIDEO]

Notary with client in office

One of the things that has come up recently due to COVID-19 is what happens when adult children who are away at college need medical treatment. Even if they live at home, if they end up in the hospital, you don’t have any legal authority to make decisions for them because they are considered adults. This is true in both medical and financial matters.

It’s important to have a Health Care Proxy in place for that reason. It’s a good idea to also have what’s called a HIPAA authorization. HIPAA is a federal privacy act that deals with medical records. These are simple documents that fall into the category that lawyers call “advance directives.” That means that the person has appointed someone to act on their behalf ahead of time, before the need to make healthcare decisions arises. Financial matters require the execution of a Power of Attorney, a topic for a separate article.

Many years ago, I had a client that came in asking to prepare a Power of Attorney for her son. A Power of Attorney is different from a Health Care Proxy, but similar in its forward-looking concept. She needed to be able to take care of financial affairs for her son who had fallen ill with a degenerative disease that affected his brain and, unfortunately, which left him wheelchair-bound as a result. He also was unable to understand what was happening, and unable to read or write. At that point, it was too late for us to do a Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy for him and the mother had to apply to the court for guardianship in order to make decisions on his behalf. A guardianship proceeding is a Court proceeding which consumes much more time and money than preparing an advanced directive.

That illustrates the worst-case scenario. More likely is a situation where your child may be away at school, they become ill and end up in the closest hospital. They have no one else to come and assist with medical decisions. In the practical sense, most doctors and hospitals will listen to the parents and abide by their wishes if the student is not able to communicate what they want.

The problem comes if you are at odds with the doctors or the hospital regarding a procedure or medication, etc. This is where having a Health Care Proxy will allow you to make decisions for them and it will show that your child has agreed to this in advance, and doctors and hospitals in New York state have to abide by that document.

We’ve been preparing Health Care Proxies for many years. Whenever I have friends and family whose children are going away to school, I always suggest that they prepare a Health Care Proxy and HIPAA authorization before they leave. This way they have it just in case.

Leonick Law can assist you with this. We’d be happy to talk to you about it, so please give us a call. If your son or daughter is already away at school, we will work remotely to put their advance directives in place.

James Leonick

James F. Leonick
Leonick Law, P.L.L.C.
TEL: (631) 486-9500


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