Let’s Talk Turkey – Are You Able to Represent Your Child in Life or Death Decisions?

In a few weeks you’ll be gathered around the table with your loved ones, sharing laughs and stories, a great meal, and giving thanks for the wonderful family seated at your table.

Before you fall asleep from the effects of turkey tryptophan (a myth; the post-Thanksgiving-meal related snooze can be caused by consuming large amounts of alcohol and carbohydrates) or run to the big screen to watch football, bring your family back to the table for dessert and coffee. Then have a serious discussion regarding their health and welfare, and its impact on them and your entire family.

Have You Ever Discussed the “What Ifs”?

Many of the attendees at your holiday gathering will be your college aged children, who continue to drain your pocketbook with tuition payments; your boomerang children, who still don’t do their own laundry and increase the cost of the weekly grocery bill; and your other children, married or unmarried, independently living on their own, and possibly grandchildren.

Once they reach the age of 18, we, as parents, have no rights to make life or death decisions concerning our loves. Have you ever sat down with your loved ones and asked “What Ifs”?

  • What if you were involved in an accident?
  • What if you contracted a disease?
  • What if you were traveling out of the country and something happened to you?
  • What is your opinion about life support?
  • What is your opinion about a do-not-resuscitate order?
  • Are you an organ donor?
  • Do you wish to be an organ donor?

This might be the first time that you or your children have had this discussion. Not many of us think about these topics. But in a serious, life threatening situation, involving our children, you will all be glad you had this conversation. This is the beginning of your dialogue for a plan to include the wishes of the person who is incapacitated so that the appointed agent(s) is aware and will know how to honor them.

What Forms Do You Need to Become an Agent for Your Child?

With their welfare the uppermost thought in your mind, your discussion should include the following documents:

1. Authorization for Disclosure of Health Information (ADHI)

This provides you with the authority to contact the health insurance company for access to claims and payments, health records, and explanation of benefits.

2. HIPPA Authorization

This allows anyone eighteen years of age or older to permit their surrogate or healthcare agent consent to receive his or her Protected Health Information (PHI).

3. Medical/Health Care Durable Power of Attorney

This enables an individual to appoint a trusted person to make healthcare decisions on his or her behalf when he or she is unable to do so. It becomes effective when the person becomes incapacitated and is valid until revoked.

4. Durable Mental Health Care Power of Attorney

This involves situations for mental health treatment only, for an individual who lacks understanding or the capacity to make and communicate mental health treatment decisions.

5. Living Will

This deals with terminal medical issues and is intended to honor someone’s wish not to extend and maintain their life in a manner they would consider as not worth living. In it, you provide written health care instructions to your agent and health care providers. Without one, a costly court process ensues appointing an outside guardian until court approval.

All of these documents should be reviewed periodically to update names and phone numbers of appointed agents, kept in a fireproof safe, and accessible in emergencies. In some cases, the documents must be given to doctors and hospital personnel. Many of these documents can be found online and prepared by you or by an attorney.

At a time when you are gathered to give thanks for family, this discussion and completion of these documents may be the most loving opportunity you have to protect your family and acknowledge their wishes. These documents can make life easier for you and your family to get through an unbearably difficult time if a loved one is unable to communicate the type of medical treatment they want in the event of a catastrophic event. Initiate the conversation, gather reactions and comments, and if you have the documents ready, pull that quill from the “bird” and have your children sign. If not, get them prepared. What a great “stocking stuffer” for your children for Christmas!

Good wishes to you and yours for a Happy Thanksgiving.


Maxine Silverstine

Senior Staff

Maxine Silverstine is a Senior Staff Accountant in the Tax Department at Brown Schultz Sheridan & Fritz. She specializes in individual, partnership, estate and corporate tax returns.