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Young adults and health-care proxies: need for a parental nudge

Sociologists have spilled considerable ink in recent years attempting to explain the prolonged transition to adulthood in American life in the second decade of the 21st century.

The Great Recession, of course, made that transition more difficult for millions of young people. With so few jobs to be had, many twenty-somethings moved back in with their parents. And the federal Affordable Care Act has made it a requirement that children be allowed to remain on parents' health insurance plans until they are 26.

But for college-age children and their parents, there are still important practical and legal effects when children reach the age of majority. Moreover, that age is not 26 -- in most states it is 18.

For one thing, when a child reaches the age of majority, a parent no longer has a legal right to the child's medical records. Parents also lack clear legal authority to make medical care decisions if the child is unable to do so.

That is why it makes sense for an 18-year-old going off to college to get a basic estate plan in place. This should include appointing someone to be a health care proxy. A proxy is empowered to make medical care choices on behalf of someone who has become incapacitated and is unable to do so. 

It is not difficult to think of a common example of when the absence of a health care proxy could have practical and potentially tragic consequences. If a college-age child is in a serious car accident that renders the child unable to communicate health care preferences, a parent would not necessarily have the right to make those decisions for the child.

It is also a prudent step for college-age children to execute a form under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, otherwise known as HIPPA. This form releases their privacy rights under HIPPA so that health care providers can share otherwise-private information with parents or other designated people.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Why Your College-Age Children Need an Estate Plan," Anne Tergesen, September 21, 2013

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