When in a position where many people depend on you for care, it's crucial to prepare for the worst. While it may be unpleasant to think about, ask yourself: What will happen to my practice and my clients if I am suddenly no longer able to work?
One of the most important steps in preparing for the future is establishing your professional will, a legal document that spells out what happens to your practice upon your sudden incapacity or death.
Why do I need a professional will?
There are three primary reasons to have a professional will:
- Your duty to care for your clients does not end with your incapacity or death. Ethically, you are obligated to ensure their continued care, and a professional will helps to ensure that your clients will still have access to the care they need.
- A professional will helps to protect your estate. The document ensures that a client cannot sue your personal estate if their care is interrupted.
- A professional will ensures the security of your records, whether stored in an EHR or on paper, and prevents client information from getting into the wrong hands.
Overall, your professional will helps to protect your clients and ensures that all legal matters pertaining to your practice are sorted out, relieving your colleagues of the burden of making decisions for your practice that they may be unprepared for.
What do I need to create a professional will?
Always contact your attorney when creating legal documents. Content guidelines or notification practices may vary by state, and your state psychological association may be able to offer recommendations.
Your professional will names a "professional executor" who is responsible for notifying past and present clients of your incapacity or death and closing your practice. Additionally, consider secondary and tertiary executors in case your primary executor is unable to assume the responsibilities. Your will should include contact information (phone, cell phone, email address, and fax, if applicable) for each of these individuals; be sure to update this information regularly.
Your will grants your professional executor authority to act on your behalf and describes what should happen to your practice as well as how they can access the files and login information necessary to contact or manage your clients. Discuss the contents of your will with each of your chosen executors in addition to the steps they would need to take to administer your will. To prepare for this discussion, consider: Where is the key to your office kept? Is there a code for a security system? Where can they find important documents? Is a password required to access information about your clients? Your executor should also know about your professional liability insurance (including company, policy number, contact information, and instructions for notification). Some states may also require an advertisement be placed in the local paper.
Including instructions to locate and access important client health records, including previous session notes, is of utmost importance in ensuring that your clients continue to receive care that is on track with their prescribed treatment. Additionally, if your records are stored in an EHR, be sure to note this in your professional will. Your professional executor may need to provide proof of incapacitation or death to your EHR provider in order to gain access to your records and notes.
What else do I need to consider?
Your clients should be informed that your professional executor will have access to their files in the event you are unable to provide care, so be sure to include this in your Informed Consent form. Additionally, note in each client's chart about their notification preferences for the benefit of both you and your professional executor.
Consider if you need a method of paying for your executor to carry out their duties – while some may consider it a service for a friend, others may need to be paid an hourly rate. Plan out where this money will come from if necessary, and consider setting aside an amount in your practice account to cover these services.
For TherapyNotes™ Users: Be sure to upload your professional will to your TherapyNotes™ account so that our team can easily verify the identity of your professional executors when necessary. This ensures that your records are always safe and in the right hands. For more information, read Professional Wills on our help center.
Where can I find more help?
For more information, meet with your attorney and contact the APA Practice Organization Legal and Regulatory Affairs Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 374-2723.
Refer to the following rules:
- For LPCs: ACA Code of Ethics Rule C.2.h
- For NCCs: NBCC Code of Ethics Directive 10
- For psychologists: APA Code of Conduct Rules 3.12 and 10.09
- For LCSWs: NASW Code of Ethics Rule 1.15
- For LMFTs: AAMFT Code of Ethics Rule 2.6
Consult the following resources:* The content of this post is intended to serve as general advice and information. It is not to be taken as legal advice and may not account for all rules and regulations in every jurisdiction. For legal advice, please contact an attorney.