Three Documents You Need… For Your Parents and Your College-Age Children

  1. HIPAA Release Form 

    Recently, my friend Kathy encountered a frustrating experience with her step-mother who had fallen and was in the emergency room facing a decision about surgery. Kathy lives several states away and when she called the ER, the professionals she encountered were reluctant to share any information until they asked her step-mother for permission to share her healthcare status.This led to significant time delays and multiple phone calls, all of which could have been avoided had Kathy’s step-mom previously signed a HIPAA release form and given it to Kathy to keep on file. With that in hand, Kathy could have called and said:”Hi, I’m Kathy, Mrs. Smith’s step-daughter. I live in Kansas and can’t be at her side right now. I am a physician and I’d like an update on her medical status and appreciate that you must protect her privacy. She signed a HIPAA release form specifically for occasions like this. Can you provide a fax number to send this to? Once you are able to retrieve it, I’d like to call back so we can discuss her care.”

    A HIPAA release form is also critical for your adult children (over 18), particularly if they live or go to school far away and may need your assistance in the event of a medical situation. Here as well, having one of these can save a great deal of time and angst.

  1. Health Care Proxy 

    A Health Care Proxy grants another individual permission to make healthcare-related decisions for you in the event you can’t make them for yourself. In Kathy’s case, her step-mom was awake, alert and able to decide on her own about the recommended surgery. But what if she were unconscious and not able to decide? With an executed health care proxy in hand, Kathy could have shared the document via fax/email and made decisions immediately.Some health care proxy documents contain sections in which you can include what you might want – or not – for end-of-life care. Topics such as resuscitation, intubation, feeding tubes, etc., are addressed. If your document does not contain such information, you may complete other forms called a Living Will, MOLST Form or a 5 Wishes document.It’s grown increasingly common at the time of hospitalization to ask the patient if he/she has a designated health care proxy and, if not, to request that one be completed on the spot. I prefer a more thoughtful approach in which this is discussed ahead of time. This way, there’s an opportunity to inform the proxy of your wishes, as well as give the other person a choice in deciding to take on this important responsibility.

    If you are having a planned admission to a hospital, bring an executed copy with you so that there is no confusion with duplicate forms being completed. Also, be sure your primary care physician has your health care proxy on file.

    Lastly, if you have an executed document, have it readily accessible to share. I found my dad had given me a copy but the originals were in a safe deposit box. In a crisis, had I not been available, my mom would not have been able to make a trip to the bank to obtain it. I have a copy of the executed document scanned onto my computer so that I can easily fax or email it (a copy will suffice).

  1. Power of Attorney 

    Power of Attorney allows a designated person to make financial decisions for you in the event you cannot make them for yourself. In a healthcare crises or in the case of a slow decline from illness, a person may lose the ability to make decisions that require some form of financial transaction such as selling assets, hiring private help in the home, moving to an assisted living environment, etc. Having such a document also allows one to easily access financial resources, something that can streamline decisions and, again, save a lot of anxiety and time.In my family, my parents serve as health care proxy and power of attorney for each other and I am the alternate. In families with multiple siblings, I’ve seen different roles assigned to different siblings for different parents. In these situations, having designated roles has been instrumental, especially when siblings disagree about what mom or dad may want for healthcare and how to spend their money on their behalf.


As you assess your roles in your respective families, such as daughter or son, mother or father, granddaughter or grandson, niece or nephew, consider what would happen if a loved one for whom you have some level of responsibility were to become ill. Give yourself the gift of being prepared for such situations by knowing about the documents discussed above and having them in place.