The Middle of the Night Call – How to Protect Family Finances When Children Make Mistakes


If your children have reached adulthood, it’s likely that you’ve answered the phone and been surprised by upsetting news about a problem your child is facing. “Mom, I’m in the hospital…in jail…in trouble.” Your stomach turns over; your head starts to hurt; your mind races. How can you help? When that call comes in the middle of the night and involves the police or the hospital, the panic runs even deeper. How can you best protect your child, yourself, and your finances when an emergency occurs?

Medical

Few words buckle a parent’s knees faster than “Mom, I had an accident.” Whether the child contacts you during the incident, later while in the hospital, or after they’ve gotten home, you can mitigate the emotional and financial costs in several ways.

Travel to their location if possible. Some injuries seem more minor than they actually are. If you have the money and ability to get to your child, go in person and assess the situation. It is always better to have an advocate when you are receiving medical care, so if you can get to your child to help, you will improve the outcome from both health and financial perspectives. If you can’t get there, ask your child to fill out the HIPAA privacy forms so that you can talk to the doctors and nurses about the child’s condition. Ask a friend to go if your child is amenable to that.

Encourage or help your child to document the situation. Ask for and collect police reports, medical assistance records, bills, emails, and phone conversations to maximize insurance and other repayments. Keep in mind that once your child reaches the age of majority in your state, you aren’t liable for their medical bills even if you cover them on your health insurance. You may choose to pay their medical bills, but if you don’t and the bills go into collection, it will be the child who is responsible, not you. Regardless, excellent documentation will help bill-payers ensure that they are paying only what is owed, not extras billed by mistake.

Legal

When your child breaks the law, you have less ability to fix the situation. However, you can take some actions that can help.