Who do you know that is getting ready to go off to college this fall? Perhaps it’s your own child, a niece/nephew, grandchild, or son/daughter of a friend. Families will soon be shopping for bedding, mini-fridges, Easy Mac, and textbooks. With the myriad of things to be done before the fall, I’ll bet you very few family “to-do” lists include a check off box for Get Junior a Health Care Proxy. This often overlooked necessity is something that should, at the very least, be considered.
When your child turns 18 they are a bona-fide adult and Mom and Dad cannot step in to make medical decisions for their now “adult” children. In Massachusetts, the only document legally recognized to name a substitute decision maker is a Health Care Proxy. However, the overwhelming majority of college students do not have a Health Care Proxy in place.
A Health Care Proxy names someone to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to do yourself. So, for example, let’s say that Sally comes down with a bad case of meningitis her freshman year. She deteriorates very quickly and ends up in a near-unconscious state, unable to make or communicate medical decisions. If she had a Health Care Proxy in place naming Mom, Dad, or older sister as her health care agent, they would be able to communicate with Sally’s treating physicians more completely and have legal authority over her health-related decisions.
What if Johnny has a tragic accident on the football field leaving him paralyzed from the neck down? On top of that the doctors say the outlook is grim if Johnny will ever regain mental functioning and is in a permanent, vegetative state on total life support. Without a Health Care Proxy in place, Johnny’s family won’t be allowed to decide the level of support he will receive. Johnny’s family may even be forced to go to the county Probate Court to get a legal guardianship and ask a judge to make any changes to Johnny’s treatment. Most students would rather have a trusted family member make this decision than a total stranger.
It may seem unnecessary to prepare health care documents for someone so young and healthy, unlikely to come down with serious illnesses. However, when accidents happen to young adults, their legal needs are not often protected and important decision can be left up to disinterested parties, limiting close family involvement.
This may be an unsavory topic to discuss with an 18 year old, but very important, especially if your child still wants Mom and Dad helping them handle their affairs until they get older or are married.