The Importance of Having an Advanced Directive

Can you talk to your child’s doctors if something happens to them while away at college?

Imagine this: Your daughter goes off to college across the country.  A month later, you get a call from your daughter’s roommate telling you that your daughter is in the hospital.  When you call the hospital for details, the doctor tells you that you aren’t authorized to receive her medical information.  How can this be?  You’re her parent, and you’ve made all medical decisions for her before now.  But regardless of how mature your children are, when they turn 18 years old, they are legal adults who get to make their own decisions. 

How do you prevent this from happening to you?  In order for you to access your child’s medical information, your child needs to provide authorization in an Advance Directive.  This is a legal document that allows a person to designate the individuals they would like to receive medical information and make medical decisions on their behalf if they can’t make those decisions for themselves. 

While most states have laws that recognize parents as the health care “surrogates” for their children, not all medical facilities are well-informed about these laws.  In addition, a health care surrogate doesn’t have as much authority as an agent designated in an Advance Directive.  For example, in Maryland, a health care surrogate cannot make decisions about mental health issues or end of life care without the involvement of the medical facility’s ethics committee. 

The last thing that any parent wants is to be unable to help their own child.  If your child’s doctors won’t provide you with any information, you may be stuck petitioning the court to be appointed as the legal guardian of your own child and required to get the court’s permission to make medical decisions.  Don’t let this happen to your family.  All of this can be very easily avoided by talking to your child about executing an Advance Directive. 

Jennifer McManus is an attorney with the Estate Planning practice group at Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny, LLC. For questions about this article or other questions about estate planning documents, please do not hesitate to contact Jennifer McManus at 410.995.5800 or via email.