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Will privacy laws prevent you from helping your child?

Like many in North Carolina and elsewhere, you may think of estate planning as something you do when you get older. In fact, you may not have even considered this process for yourself, so the thought that your child may benefit from estate planning may seem absurd. However, with the new school year starting, this may be an excellent time to consider certain estate planning tools that can save you precious time if your child should need your help.

If your child recently turned 18, you may be surprised to learn that the law no longer grants you authority to make decisions on your child's behalf. You may still be making breakfast and picking up dirty socks for your kids. You may even have your child on your health insurance policy. Nevertheless, without taking certain precautions, you may not be able to speak for you child if he or she becomes ill or injured.

When protections get in the way

Federal laws regarding patient privacy are rigid. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prevents doctors and nurses from sharing a patient's medical information without the patient's permission. Once your child turned 18, HIPAA protects his or her privacy. Unfortunately, this means that you may not be able to learn about your child's condition, treatment plan or prognosis if your child ends up in the hospital unable to speak.

Additionally, you will have no authority to make medical decisions on your child's behalf. In fact, you may not even know your child's wishes for the kinds of medical care he or she would want. It can be difficult to think about your son or daughter once so alive and vibrant lying in a hospital while you are in a courthouse trying to get legal permission to intercede for your child.

Think ahead

When your child gets married, his or her spouse will have authority to act during a medical emergency. Until then, you and your child should consider confronting the issue of what your child's wishes would be and whether he or she will authorize you to access medical information and authorize treatments. Having your child sign a HIPAA authorization can allow you to remain updated during a medical emergency. Your child can even specify the kind of information doctors should keep private.

You may also ask you child for medical power of attorney, which gives you authority to make critical decisions on your child's behalf. This may be especially important if your child is going off to college. By speaking with a North Carolina attorney, your family can obtain information about these and other legal documents that may be appropriate for your situation.

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