3 Important Documents Every Unmarried Adult Should Consider Having

No one likes to think about being in a situation where you're unable to make medical decisions on your own behalf, or as a parent, being unable to help your adult child in the event of an emergency. When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA for short) was enacted in 1996, rules were established about who can have access to your medical information. From a privacy standpoint, there are many positive aspects to the rule, however one thing many parents of adult children and single people over 18 might not know, is that HIPAA also can limit access to information in the event of an emergency when a single person may need help.

For a married couple, the spouse can act as a personal representative and make medical decisions on behalf of their spouse in the event of an accident or emergency. However for a single person over the age of 18, without legal documentation, your parent, trusted relative or friend may not be able to act as your personal representative in the event of an emergency. That's why it is important to document your wishes with a durable power of attorney for finances, a health care proxy and a HIPAA release form.

Your care on your terms

The fact of the matter is that in the eyes of the law, in most states you become fully independent when you reach the age of 18. At this point in time, you are also fully covered by HIPAA.

HIPAA is a series of laws that, among other regulations, establishes rules regarding who is permitted to view and discuss your health care information, including doctors, family members, friends or even someone with whom you are in a committed relationship.

This means if you were to become ill or involved in an accident that left you unresponsive, medical professionals may be unable to share critical information with those closest to you. What's more, the people you most trust may be unable to give directions to the medical staff over the phone or make any decisions impacting the scope or extent of the care you'd prefer. However, these issues can be mitigated through legal documentation, including:

  • Durable Power of Attorney for Finances: A durable power of attorney for finances is a document that stays in effect in the event you become incapacitated. Simply put, it allows a person you've designated to act in your place and handle business on your behalf. This includes accessing financial accounts, paying bills, etc.
  • Health Care Proxy: This type of document details your wishes for health care if you become too injured or ill to speak for yourself. It also lays out the scope and extent of care you would wish to receive, and authorizes exactly who can make medical decisions on your behalf.
  • HIPAA Release Form: A HIPAA release form is a specific type of authorization that allows anyone you have designated to be given information about your medical condition.

Durable power of attorney for finance and health care proxy forms and requirements can vary by state. When establishing these documents, it's a good idea to consult with your attorney to better understand the laws in the state in which you reside, as well as those in the state(s) of any concerned parties you might name, if their residency differs from your own.

Another helpful bit of advice: Be sure to keep these documents in an accessible, secure location and make sure to give whomever you named as your designated representatives a copy of their respective authorizations.

Give yourself and your family peace of mind

Before your child goes off to college, it may be a good idea to sit down with your legal counsel to prepare these three documents. Then if your child ends up in the infirmary at their university or is traveling abroad and becomes sick or hurt, you will be in a position to get an update on your child's condition and be able to act on his/her behalf. Similarly, if you're single, you may wish to consult your legal counsel to grant appropriate authority for whom you'd want to receive an update from a hospital or doctor, or to speak on your behalf if it is needed in a medical emergency, or to assist with your financial matters.