It is the New Year, and my husband and I were planning to celebrate our honeymoon by visiting Europe without our minor children. The day before our departure, my neighbor told me of a tragic experience she had during her last trip away from her children. She left her children with their grandparents and she and her husband took their first vacation without the children in over 10 years. She said her vacation abruptly ended just one day after landing in Japan and it took two days to book a flight back to Florida. Once learning that her 12-year-old daughter was taken by the grandparents to the hospital, unconscious, she said panic set in at once. Unfortunately, the grandparents were not the legal guardians and couldn’t make any medical decisions on behalf of their granddaughter. Q: What are parents to do if they are away and out of reach of their children who are staying with others should their children need consent for emergency medical treatment?
A: It is complicated. Sadly, in the case of tragedy, more than 50% of all adults have no health care documents for themselves and most children have no such documents whatsoever. Consider the following examples.
Ainsley, 12 years old, went camping with her friend’s family. While hiking, Ainsley fell from a lakeside rope swing, landed headfirst on large rocks, and suffered brain trauma that needed immediate medical treatment. Because her parent’s friends caring for Ainsley had no authorization to give medical consent, Ainsley suffered for 48 hours until her parents could be reached and return from abroad to the hospital to authorize treatment. Had Ainsley’s parents prepared health care directives authorizing her friend’s parents to act as Ainsley’s health care surrogate, treatment could have been immediate.
Another example: Doris stopped planting flowers to answer her cell phone. A friend of her son at college, seven states away, gave her horrifying news that her son, Joshua, had seriously injured himself falling from a balcony at a fraternity party and was taken by ambulance, unconscious, to the hospital. Doris immediately called the emergency room where her son was taken but was told that because Joshua was 18 years old and now an adult, Doris could not authorize treatment unless she had a health care directive naming her as Joshua’s surrogate.
To give his consent, Joshua, before leaving for college, would have had to prepare a health care directive naming his mother, Doris, as his surrogate.
The good news is that in 2020, Florida passed new laws enabling the signing and notarization of legal documents remotely with state approved document signing computer management programs and notaries who are certified to perform remote notary services. Today you may be halfway around the world and sign legal documents authorizing others to act on your behalf until you return home.
But don’t wait until you are far, far away. Meet with an estate planning attorney and prepare a health care directive for your children before you travel.