What Legal Authority Do I Need to Access My Parent’s Financial, Legal, or Health Records?

If you have not already, you should have a discussion with an attorney and your parent(s) about setting up a general power of attorney, durable power of attorney, joint account, trust, or advance directive. One (or all) of these documents will give you the legal authority to make decisions and obtain the legal, financial, and medical documents necessary to take care of your parent(s).

Why Do I Need Written-Legal Authority to Access my Parent's Information?

The primary reason you will need written legal authority to access your parents’ documents is the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA keeps a person's health information and records private. Unless your parent gives you written authorization to receive that information, it is illegal for doctors to share any details with you about your parent's health.

What Legal Authority Should I Establish?

There are several types of authorities needed to properly manage and obtain your parent(s) legal, financial, and healthcare affairs. Below is brief summary of some of the available authorities:

  • Health-Care Proxy: a legal document that names a health care agent. The health care agent will not only have decision-making powers, but also have full access to confidential medical records.
  • Advance Healthcare Directive: written instructions regarding an individual's medical care preferences. The forms vary from state to state, but in general, advance directives can include a Living Will, Health Care Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy, and Do Not Resuscitate or Do Not Intubate Order (DNR or DNI).
  • Durable Power of Attorney: is a document that grants a person or persons ("Attorney-in-fact") the legal powers to perform on behalf of the elder ("Grantor") certain acts and functions specifically outlined in the document. This power is effective immediately and continues even if the grantor becomes disabled or incompetent. The powers usually granted include real estate, banking and financial transactions, personal and family maintenance, government benefits, estate trust and beneficiary transactions.

For a complete list, contact a legal adviser.

Why Are These Authorities Important?

At some point, your parent may not be able to manage their own legal matters and will rely on you to act in their best interest. Planning ahead allows your parent and your family to have the legal authority to make critical decisions. If these authorities are not established prior to your parent becoming incapacitated then you or another family member must ask a court to appoint a conservator or guardian, which may be a more complicated and difficult process.

To establish any of the authorities listed above you should contact a professional legal adviser immediately.