Why You Should Include a HIPAA Release in Your Estate Plan

What would happen if you became incapacitated and unable to make your own health care decisions? Does your estate plan provide the proper amount of protection? Incapacity planning is an essential part of overall estate planning. Among other things, incapacity planning should include:

  • Health Care Power of Attorney: A legal document that allows you to designate a trusted family member or loved one as your health care—meaning they could make medical decisions on your behalf if you are not in a position to do so.
  • Living Will: An optional estate planning document through which you can express specific wishes regarding your own health care. Most often, a living will is used to provide instructions for end-of-life-care.

Additionally, a comprehensive estate plan should also often include another legal document called a HIPAA release form. In this blog post, our Charlotte estate planning law firm highlights the most important things you should know about HIPAA release forms.

What Does HIPAA Have to Do With Estate Planning?

Most people in North Carolina have a general familiarity with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Referred to simply as ‘HIPAA’, it is federal law created in the 1990s to regulate the flow and control of sensitive health care information. You have probably heard of HIPAA because of its strong privacy rules. The law requires doctors, hospitals, medical providers, and insurance companies to avoid disclosing sensitive health information without approval.

There is no doubt that these protections are important. At the same time, the HIPAA protections are so comprehensive that they can create some challenges for vulnerable people. If you suddenly became incapacitated becauase of an accident or an illness, your loved ones may struggle to get access to your medical records. During an already stressful time, this can be a real burden on you and your family.

The Solution: You can include a HIPAA release form as part of your estate plan. Essentially, federal law allows you to select a “personal representative” who can get access to your HIPAA-protected health/medical information if you become incapacitated. It is often a good practice to sign a HIPAA release when you appoint another person as your health care power of attorney. The HIPAA release will help to ensure that they can easily get the information that they need from doctors and medical providers.

Make Sure That Your HIPAA Release Conforms to Federal Standards

It is not good enough to simply take out a sheet of paper, write that it is a HIPAA release, and sign it. To ensure that it will be accepted by doctors and hospitals, it is essential that a HIPAA release is professionally drafted. The estate planning document must conform to certain federal standards in order to be deemed legally valid. Specifically, the authorization for the release of medical information form should have the following five things:

  • A HIPAA release must be signed and dated by the individual;
  • A HIPAA release must clearly identify the person who is entitled to access sensitive health information;
  • A HIPPA release must have an expiration date or expiration ‘event’;
  • A HIPAA release should state that the drafted has the right to revoke the authorization; and
  • A HIPAA release must contain an acknowledgment that the person authorized to receive sensitive information may end up disclosing to other parties.

When utilized properly, a HIPAA authorization form is a relatively simple estate planning document that can take a lot of stress and pressure off of people and families during difficult times. You can include a HIPAA release form as part of your comprehensive estate planning package, including a will, trusts, durable power of attorney, health care power of attorney, and a living will. An estate planning lawyer can help you determine what documents you need to achieve your goals and provide the maximum amount of protection.

Speak to a North Carolina Estate Planning Attorney for Immediate Assistance

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our Charlotte estate planning lawyers are standing by, ready to help you put the right plan in place to protect you and your family no matter what happens. If you have any questions about health care power of attorney (POA), living wills, or HIPAA release forms, we are available to help. Give us a call now or get in touch with us online for a strictly confidential initial consultation. With offices in Charlotte, Monroe, and the Lake Norman area, we are proud to provide personalized estate planning services throughout North Carolina.