Ah, summer; it’s almost here and is quickly becoming the focus of most students’ daydreams, and for that matter, those of their parents. Summertime also marks a season full of travel and vacationing.
While many kids vacation with their parents throughout the summer months, children are also often invited to embark on travel adventures with their extended families and their friends’ families.
Then, of course, there are instances throughout the summer when parents decide to take some time for themselves, enjoying a vacation from parenting and work responsibilities, while leaving their children in the care of other responsible adults who may or may not share familial ties.
Relaxation and fun are the goal of summer trips, but as many parents can attest, accidents happen.
When things go awry and emergency services are required, it is imperative your minor children have immediate access to the necessary medical care. Whether the emergency is something as routine as a playground spill resulting in a sprain or broken bone, or more extreme like an accident at the beach, parents who are away from their children should take the necessary steps to ensure timely and appropriate care can be received.
Tips for such situations
Consider the use of a short-term medical power of attorney, or health care consent, that designates the person with whom your child is travelling as a limited agent to provide medical consent when necessary for your child’s care.
Consider a short-term guardianship document or letter that identifies the person or persons with whom your child will be staying. This document should clearly identify all adult individuals that may bear responsibility for your child while they are away from you.
If you are the party who is leaving town, similar documents should be prepared and left with the responsible adult who will care for your child while you are away.
If someone else’s minor child will be in your care, either as an invited guest or while their parents are away, be sure you have received similar documents from the parent or guardian of your guests.
If possible, advise your primary medical providers — pediatricians, dentists, etc. — so they are aware that third parties may be in contact with them in the event of an emergency. The medical providers might even have forms they’ll want you to use.
Extra caution for unmarried LGBTQ couples
Even in the post-marriage equality era, there are challenges of which LGBTQ families need to be aware — especially for those co-parents who are not married. LGBTQ-rights related laws regarding family and anti-discrimination still vary by state, and may impact your ability to access your child should a vacation mishap result in a hospital stay. The last thing you need in that situation is to rush to your child’s side, only to be met with resistance from a medical institution — especially in a state other than the one you call home.
Knowing which rights are protected at the federal level is important, especially for those families in which the parents are not married; for example, federal law requires “hospitals participating in Medicaid and Medicare to have written policies and procedures regarding patients’ visitation rights. Hospitals must: (1) inform each patient of his or her right to receive visitors whom he or she designates, including a domestic partner, (2) do not restrict or limit visitation rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity, among other factors and (3) ensure that all visitors have full and equal visitation rights, consistent with a patient’s wishes. State laws governing medical decision-making are often based on biological and marital relationships, and so in the case of unmarried co-parents, do not protect LGBTQ people and their families.”1
By preparing advanced healthcare directives and other documents, unmarried LGBTQ parents can ensure access to their children — by designated caregivers, and even by themselves in another state.
Safe, happy travels!
As parents, the primary thing to remember is that you have the opportunity to address these situations before an emergency occurs. And, while you can hope that your children will never face such circumstances, or if they do, be forced to wait until parental consent can be provided, you can also be proactive in preparing for these situations.
As you plan for upcoming family trips, children’s summer travel, and your own vacations, be sure to consider short-term guardianship and health care consents. Don’t leave home — or let your kids leave home — without them!
info: David T. DuFault is an estate planning and business attorney at Sodoma Law, P.C. in Charlotte, N.C. DuFault holds a Juris Doctor from Campbell University, Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, a Masters in Accountancy from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Belk College of Business, and a Masters of Laws from The University of Alabama School of Law.
1 Human Rights Campaign, Hospital Visitation Guide for LGBTQ Families