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Health Care Directives and Graduating Seniors

  • Published: 2011-04-15 - Contact: Kirsch Gartenberg & Howard
  • Synopsis: A health care directive is a legal document that gives authority to a person to make health care decisions in the event of incapacity or disability.

Main Document

High school graduation is a good time for parents to encourage their children to get a health care directive in place.

High school graduation ceremonies are typically called "commencement" for a good reason. Life goes on after high school. The pomp and circumstances marks an end, but also a beginning.

A transitional moment like this involves more than just putting on a nice reception. It is a good time for parents to review the status of their graduates' health care arrangements. This starts with making sure there is coverage under an appropriate insurance policy. But you should also realize that, once your child turns 18, you will not have the same ability to direct his or her medical care decisions unless you plan ahead.

Contingency Planning

A health care directive is a legal document that gives authority to another person or persons to make health care decisions in the event of incapacity or disability. If your 18-year-old child is in a serious accident, for example, a health care directive would allow you to make medical care decisions on your child's behalf.

This clarification of decision making authority is especially crucial in the tense, emergency situations that can follow a serious accident. Key decisions about how aggressively to treat the injuries must often be made quickly. Uncertainty about who is allowed to make these decisions can only hurt when time is of the essence.

Recognizing how important it is for parents to be able to help their children in these circumstances, New Jersey recently created a voluntary next-of-kin registry to assist with parental notification about accidents involving their children. It is known as Sara's Law, after a 19-year-old woman named Sara Dubinin who was badly injured after her car hit a tree in 2007.

By the time emergency personnel were able to locate Sara's parents - an hour and a half later - she had fallen into a coma. She died the next day.

What a Health Care Directive Does

If your child gets into a serious accident or comes down with a sudden illness, be prepared. A health care directive that lists you as the designated decision maker would enable you to make appropriate decisions on his or her behalf in these exigent circumstances.

Without such a directive, however, responding to an emergency becomes more difficult. Medical providers do have certain limited abilities to provide life-sustaining care. But it is far better to clarify the lines of decision making in advance, just in case it's needed later.

Are you wondering about how this applies specifically to your son or daughter? Talk with a New Jersey estate planning lawyer to discuss your particular situation.

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