During the financial planning process, we will often suggest that clients ensure that several key estate planning documents are in place and current. The key documents are a will, a Durable Power of Attorney, a heath directive, and a Health Care Power of Attorney. Let's consider the importance of the latter two - and consider the special case of adult children.
The health care directive (living will) generally expresses your wishes for care and treatment should you be unable to speak for yourself. The second names another individual to make health decisions on your behalf, again if you are unable to do so.
Most of the time, spouses will name each other as having the Power of Attorney for health care then put the document in a drawer and consider the job complete. But speaking with an estate attorney at the Financial Planning Association of NJ workshop last night, I heard of something that had never occurred to me before. This attorney suggested that parents of young adult children should ask their kids to sign a health care POA giving parents the right to make medical decisions should something happen to them.
This made a lot of sense to me. The attorney told the story of a client of hers whose daughter had a bad car accident and was essentially in a coma for two days in the hospital. During that time, the hospital would not even speak with them regarding the treatments being provided due to privacy regulations. With the proper POA in place (including the requisite HIPPA waivers) this traumatic situation could have been avoided.
If you have young adult children, ask your attorney if it makes sense to have them sign a health care power of attorney. It seems that everyone would want to know that someone they trust will be able to help manage their care in a crisis. The alternative is that critical decisions regarding your medical treatment may well be left in the hands of strangers.