Tag: Power of Attorney

Please Pass the Turkey, and Sign that HIPAA Authorization Form

Many families with college students are eagerly anticipating their return for Thanksgiving break.  In the flurry of making all of the necessary preparations for college, it is easy to lose track of the fact that most college students either are 18, or will turn 18 during their freshman year.  Once a child turns 18, parental authority ends.

In order to ensure that parents will be provided with medical information and are able to act on behalf of an adult child in the event of a medical emergency or illness, parents should consider getting three documents in place before your adult child goes off to college, or when they are home for the next break:

  1. HIPAA Authorization Form

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which was passed by Congress in 1996.  HIPAA privacy regulations require health care providers to develop and follow procedures that ensure the confidentiality and security of health information. In short, without this form, medical providers are prohibited from sharing medical information with anyone other than their patient.  A signed HIPAA authorization form allows health care providers to disclose health information to anyone designated on the form, including parents.   Your child can limit the information that will be disclosed pursuant to the form, so that sensitive information regarding mental health treatment and drugs remains private.

  1. Health Care Power of Attorney

By signing this document, your adult child designates one or both parents as her/his proxy or health care representative.  The health care proxy/parent is granted legal authority to make medical decisions for the adult child in the event the child becomes incapacitated and is unable to make decisions on her/his own behalf.

  1. General Durable Power of Attorney

Having this document naming one or both parents as agent will allow a parent to make financial decisions and handle legal affairs for their adult child in the event that the child becomes incapacitated.  A general durable power of attorney will allow a parent to, among other things, manage bank accounts, pay bills, sign tax returns, and apply for government benefits.

Important considerations:

  • Once the documents are properly signed, scan them so that they are easily available on your cell phone and computer
  • Provide copies of the HIPAA authorization form and Health Care Power of Attorney to the health services office at your child’s college
  • If your child is attending an out-of-state college, sign separate documents in both your home state, and the state where your child’s college is located
  • Remember that your adult child can revoke the documents either orally or in writing
  • Make sure that your child shares passwords for any online services that you may need to access in the event of a child’s illness or incapacity, including online banking accounts, and credit card accounts

New Jersey Court Recognizes ‘Wrongful Prolongation of Life’ Cause of Action

New Jersey’s Advance Directive for Health Care Act (the “Act”) guarantees the right of an individual to make decisions regarding his or her healthcare.  But what happens if those decisions and wishes are ignored?  Morris County Superior Court Judge W. Hunt Dumont recently recognized a cause of action for wrongful prolongation of life against a Defendant hospital, doctor, and several nurses, for their alleged failure to follow a patient’s healthcare wishes.

Suzanna Stica was admitted to the hospital after complaining of breathing problems. She had signed “do not resuscitate” and “do not intubate” orders ahead of her admission.  Despite those orders, the Defendants resuscitated Ms. Stica after she went into cardiac arrest. She lived an additional six months before she ultimately passed away.  During that time, Ms. Stica was intubated, had difficulty breathing, was confined to a wheelchair, suffered from depression and dementia, and had trouble speaking.

The court explained Ms. Stica’s wishes were “simply ignored” by the hospital and its staff.  “Ms. Stica lived an additional six months in a diminished condition that included unwanted pain and suffering,” and the Defendants “violated Ms. Stica’s fundamental right to refuse unwanted medical treatment.”

The court held that its ruling was a logical extension of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1979 ruling in Berman v. Allan, which recognized the doctrine of wrongful birth.  New Jersey, the court explained, has taken a leadership role in recognizing patients’ rights regarding treatment options.  These rights include “a well-established right to reject lifesaving treatment.”

By denying the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the court extended a legal cause of action against those who ignore a person’s decisions regarding his or her healthcare.  To ensure that your healthcare decisions and end-of-life wishes are properly integrated into your estate planning instruments, or if you have any questions regarding this recent ruling, we encourage you to contact the Firm.