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How to Prepare With Your Adult Child for Emergencies

Gaining their permission to handle health, financial and legal issues can be critical

Preparing for Your Adult Child’s Medical Emergencies by Gaining Access to Their Permissions and Passwords

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Make sure you're prepared with all the important information in case the worst happens.

En español | Earlier this summer, Sheri Iannetta Cupo received the phone call every parent fears: Her son had been rushed to the hospital after a motorcycle accident.

Cupo's 20-year-old son, Dominic, was four hours away in Worcester, Mass. Though he was coherent, it took several tense phone calls before Cupo could connect with him in the emergency room.

Luckily, Cupo, 57, a financial planner from northern New Jersey, was prepared for such an emergency. Dominic and his brother, Devon, have an advance medical directive that names her as their health care proxy, which Cupo had a lawyer draw up when her sons turned 18. She explained the necessity of the document and told them that they can change the proxy in the future to a spouse, brother or best friend.

She also had them sign durable powers of attorney, which gives her permission to handle their financial matters if they are incapacitated. Additionally, Cupo has access, if necessary, to the passwords for her sons' financial accounts. "If bills need to be paid online, you need passwords," she says. Fortunately, it didn't come to that, as Dominic is mending nicely from his injuries.

Still, it is wise to be prepared for your adult kids' medical emergencies. Federal health laws, known as HIPAA, prohibit medical providers from sharing information with anyone — including parents — without the patient's permission. If the patient is unconscious, an advance medical directive allows information sharing with the named health care proxy. While medical professionals have discretion to share information without the patient's permission, some who are "risk averse" will not, says Jane Hyatt Thorpe, a professor at George Washington's University's Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Thorpe suggests that everyone, regardless of age, should have an advance medical directive, which also includes a living will, a written expression of how you want to be treated in certain medical circumstances. It can be done by a lawyer or downloaded from the web.

However, Thorpe warns, these documents are "only as solid as the paper they are written on, and if your child isn't carrying them at the time of an accident, then they are of no immediate use." As a backup, Thorpe and her family all have an ICE (in case of emergency) app on their smartphones that allows access to name, emergency contact and other information, without having to use a password.

Older millennials without a partner also should consider having these various documents and a passwords list in place. Explain to them that you're not trying to interfere in their lives but rather trying to plan for the worst.

That was the situation last November when writer Janie Emaus drove her 30-something daughter to a Los Angeles hospital for knee surgery. Emaus was surprised when her adult child gave her the password to her phone. Like many millennials, her life was on the phone — family photos, passwords, personal notes for her children — and she wanted her mom to have access to them in case something happened. The incident inspired Emaus, who handles financial affairs for her elderly mother, to organize her own handwritten lists of passwords that she shared with her sister.

She's now working on compiling what the Wall Street Journal called "the doomsday list" of passwords with critical personal information for herself and her husband to share with their adult children in case of emergency.

Beyond passwords and permissions, it's also good to have the cellphone numbers of some of your adult child's close friends. Cupo did and was able to contact one of her son's friends who could get to the hospital immediately. "My son had a friendly face in the room with him, and she was able to relay information to us while we were driving there."

Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. A New York University journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at Mothering21.