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Legal Alert

A Holiday Checklist: Turkey, Stuffing, Green Bean Casserole, and a Health Care Directive

November 18, 2014

If you sent children or grandchildren off to college in the Fall, did your preparations include having them sign a Minnesota Health Care Directive before they left? If the answer is "No," you may want to take care of this while they are back in town for the holidays.

Why should a college-aged child have a Health Care Directive?

A common misconception is that parents can make health care decisions for their children who are over age 18, especially if they are paying the medical bills. They can't. Once a child or grandchild reaches the age of 18, they are legally an adult and need to sign a Health Care Directive in order to allow their parents—or another person if they so choose—to make decisions regarding their health care in the event that they are unable to do so themselves. 

In addition, a federal law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents medical providers from sharing confidential patient information with anyone other than the patient or people specifically designated by the patient. If your adult child or grandchild is hospitalized or receiving other medical treatment and you have questions or want to discuss any concerns with their medical providers, those health care providers will not be able to talk to you about any protected medical information without written authorization from the patient.

In Minnesota, a Health Care Directive allows an individual to:

  • appoint an agent to speak on their behalf in the event that they are unable to communicate their wishes regarding their health care; and
  • express their wishes concerning their care in the event they have a terminal illness (this is sometimes called a "living will").

The most important thing for a young person to do is to appoint someone to speak for them in the event they can't communicate for themselves. The "living will" provisions are also important, but they do not have to be completed for the designation of a health care agent to be effective.

After the Health Care Directive is properly signed and either witnessed or notarized, the original Health Care Directive should be placed in a safe place and a copy provided to each health care agent. A copy should also be given to each doctor's office to be put in the person's medical records.

We Can Help
If you would like to have your adult children or grandchildren sign a Health Care Directive, or if you have any related questions, please contact Maslon's Estate Planning Group. We are happy to help you with this important issue.


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