Creating a Professional Will to Ensure Continuity of Care After Your Demise

last will and testament G 172862772 — Emotional Well-being, Mental Health, Psychiatrists, Psychologists

Ms M, a 58-year-old lady with depression, anxiousness, and a history of childhood trauma and abandonment, was beneath the care of a psychiatrist in solo private practice who was managing her pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy. It had taken Ms M quite a few years to seek experienced aid, and soon after practically a year of therapy, her depression and anxiousness have been enhancing and she was starting to address her longstanding traumas.

One day, she arrived at her psychiatrist’s workplace for her scheduled appointment to locate the door locked. She waited outdoors the creating, but no a single showed up. When she returned property, she referred to as the psychiatrist a number of occasions, but her calls went to voicemail and her messages have been not returned. In the following days, she became increasingly despondent and felt abandoned, and her depression improved.

A couple of days later, she noticed some newspapers that a neighbor had place out for recycling and saw the headline that her psychiatrist had died in a hit-and-run accident the day prior to her appointment. Although she understood that the doctor had not intentionally “abandoned” her, Ms M nonetheless felt that trust was also risky. Her depression and anxiousness improved in severity, and she started possessing suicidal ideation.

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Psychiatrists should really make provisions for a possible circumstance in which they would be unable to care for their patients, either due to incapacitation or death nevertheless, mainly because the psychiatrist in this case did not do so, Ms M and the other patients in the practice have been exposed to harm. In a group practice or institutional setting, the partners or institution would assume this duty, but for psychiatrists in private practice, the duty falls upon the person doctor to place a mechanism in location by way of a experienced will.

Thomas Gutheil, MD, professor of psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Massachusetts, offered insight into this vital and normally overlooked subject. Dr Gutheil is also assistant director of Medical Student Training and co-founder of the Program in Psychiatry and the Law at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.  He is president of the Law and Psychiatry Resource Center and former president of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health.

What is a experienced will?

A experienced will is a document that lays out distinct directions about problems such as who should really inform patients of a clinician’s incapacitation or death, how the data should really be conveyed, and what should really occur to patients’ records. As with a private will, the document should really name a specific master — analogous to an executor — whom the practitioner has designated to carry out his or her directions and make choices in the absence of the departed treating experienced.

Is it mandated for psychiatrists to create a experienced will?

Most experienced mental wellness societies have some sort of ethical statement with regards to the necessity for practitioners to make a program in the occasion of their incapacitation or death. For instance, according to the American Psychological Association’s code of ethics, a practitioner should really make “reasonable efforts to plan for facilitating services in the event that psychological services are interrupted by factors such as the psychologist’s illness, death, unavailability, relocation or retirement.”1 

Having a experienced will is not straight addressed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics with Annotations Especially Applicable to Psychiatry.2 Nevertheless, the American Psychiatric Association’s ethics committee issued 2 relevant opinions (Table 1).3 In addition, the American Psychiatric Association provides an Unplanned Retirement Toolkit, which includes a sample experienced will.4

Table 1. American Psychiatric Association Ethics Opinions

Question: What are the obligations and responsibilities of the executors of the estate of a deceased psychiatrist with respect to the records of former patients? Specifically, should really the executor notify all persons about whom there is a health-related record?  
Answer: Executors of a deceased psychiatrist’s estate should really guarantee that patients are informed about the death and sources to establish continuity of care. (Section 4) (1993 Revised 2017)  
Question: What are the obligations and responsibilities of the executors of the estate of a deceased psychiatrist with respect to the records of former patients? May they be applied for scientific or investigation purposes?  
Answer: The ethical problem is a single of confidentiality. The records stay confidential notwithstanding the death of the psychiatrist. Any disclosure of the records have to have the consent of the person patient. (Section 4) (1993 Revised 2019)  
American Psychiatric Association.3

Has there been enough interest provided to developing a experienced will?

In my perception, this is an beneath-addressed subject, due to a number of possible causes. One is lack of education, as most health-related schools do not involve this subject in their ethics courses. Another purpose is the common reluctance on the component of folks to create any sort of will. Several surveys have discovered that only a compact percentage of Americans have a will. One carried out by and discovered that two-thirds of US respondents did not have a will or other estate preparing documents.5 Although 35% more folks surveyed this year as compared with final year saw the have to have for a individual to have a will, the all round percentage of respondents who in fact have a will did not alter.5 People are normally uncomfortable pondering or speaking about their mortality or generating sensible provisions, and health-related and mental wellness pros are no exception.

Do you have a experienced will?

I have a document in my “death folder,” which is the place exactly where I have my private will, advance directive, and other documents associated to incapacitation or death. In the occasion of my death, my family members would inform the specific master, who would take the actions we agreed upon.

What is a specific master?

A specific master should really ideally be a trusted colleague who is formally designated by you to inform patients of your incapacitation or death.

The purpose the specific master should really be a mental wellness experienced is that the part is not only administrative but clinical. There are undoubtedly administrative tasks that have to have to be taken care of (Table 2), but quite a few can be performed by a individual who is not necessarily a clinician, such as an administrator or lawyer. The part of the specific master goes beyond merely transmitting data to a patient about a clinician’s death. The specific master could possibly be thought of a “bridge” till the patient has discovered a new psychiatric and therapeutic structure. Losing a psychiatrist can be traumatic for a patient, and clinical capabilities may possibly be required to help the patient by way of a tricky time. Thus, the specific master also requires more than the triage of patients soon after the death, which could possibly imply meeting with a patient to ascertain his or her wants, assisting arrange referrals to other psychiatrists or psychiatric settings, and figuring out if a patient demands hospitalization. The specific master obtains and secures the patient’s records and preferably passes them to the patient’s new clinician (or, in some situations, the patient’s lawyer), with the patient’s consent. Giving data to the patient’s lawyer is not a typical pathway nevertheless, at occasions, if the patient is deceased or beneath guardianship, the patient’s lawyer may possibly be the path to the patient’s executor or guardian who “owns” the data in the record. If the patient wishes to take the records straight, this is permitted in most states, though a case could be produced for the specific master reviewing the chart to see if that could have a unfavorable impact on the patient. 

To execute the process, the specific master will have to have a list of the clinician’s patients and their get in touch with data, with each other with access to every patient’s health-related record and any relevant data that will help in facilitating the transition of care.

Table 2. Administrative Tasks Associated with Unplanned Practice Closing

· Notify employees (if relevant)
· Notify agencies, institutions, and associations
· Notify hospitals exactly where the psychiatrist has had privileges
· Dispose of medication samples and prescription blanks
· Notify the billing enterprise (if relevant)
· Notify enterprises to terminate accounts
· Notify health-related malpractice carrier
· Notify and terminate experienced memberships/responsibilities
· Sample letters, voicemails, and/or e-mail announcements 
American Psychiatric Association.4

Are there any issues that granting the specific master access to patient names and records could possibly be a HIPAA violation?

To address the possibility that giving the specific master access to patient records could possibly constitute a HIPAA violation, the ethical suggestions of some societies, such as the American Psychological Association, advise the inclusion of verbiage with regards to the specific master in the patient’s initial consent type6:

In case I am all of a sudden unable to continue to provide experienced services or to retain client records due to incapacitation or death, I have designated a colleague who is a licensed psychologist as my experienced executor. If I die or develop into incapacitated, my experienced executor will be provided access to all of my client records and may possibly get in touch with you straight to inform you of my death or incapacity to provide access to your records to provide psychological services, if required and/or to facilitate continued care with an additional certified experienced, if required. If you have any inquiries or issues about this experienced executor arrangement, I will be glad to talk about them with you.

However, I do not think that it is a HIPAA violation for a specific master to be granted access to the patient’s health-related record in this uncommon circumstance. The specific master would be integrated inside the “circle of confidentiality” inside which data may possibly flow freely, such as that among treater and inpatient treater group.7 I do not personally really feel that it is important or even effective for a patient to be expected to sign a type at the extremely 1st session that alludes to his or her new psychiatrist’s possible demise or incapacitation. It could possibly make agitation and undermine the therapeutic connection proper at the outset.

HIPAA is associated to protected wellness data handled by electronic signifies.8 Obviously, the specific master should really conform to HIPAA guidelines when transmitting the chart nevertheless, “front loading” the notion of the treater’s death when therapy has just begun appears to me distracting and unnecessary. It is noteworthy that psychology ethics codes usually function far higher warnings and cautions in the initial encounter than health-related ones.

Do you have any extra thoughts to share?

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the sense of impermanence and mortality for quite a few folks, though of course vulnerability to incapacitation and death is scarcely new. Being a psychiatrist carries a duty to act in the very best interest of patients that extends beyond one’s private lifespan. Creating a experienced will is the very best way to guarantee that your patients are protected in the unfortunate occasion of your untimely demise.

Sample experienced wills and preparing documents, as properly as other important data, are readily available from the following associations:

American Psychiatric Association

Unplanned Retirement Toolkit

American Psychological Association

Sample Professional Will

San Diego Psychological Association

Guidelines for Preparing Your Professional Will

National Association of Social Workers

Example of a Professional Will


  1. American Psychological Association. Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. March 2017. Available at: Accessed August 30, 2021.
  2. American Psychiatric Association.  Principles of Medical Ethics With Annotations Especially Applicable to Psychiatry, 2013 Edition. Available at: Accessed September 10, 2021.
  3. American Psychiatric Association. Opinions of the Ethics Committee on The Principles of Medical Ethics With Annotations Especially Applicable to Psychiatry. 2021 Edition. Available at: Accessed September 10, 2021.
  4. American Psychiatric Association. Toolkit for the Unplanned Closing of Your Practice. Carlat Psychiatry Report. November, 2017. Available at: Accessed September 5, 2017.
  5. 2021 Wills and Estate Planning Study. Available at:  Accessed September 15, 2021.
  6. San Diego Psychological Association. Guidelines for Preparing Your Professional Will. Available at: Accessed September 12, 2021.
  7. Gutheil, TG, Appelbaum, PS. Clinical Handbook of Psychiatry and the Law. Fifth edition.  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2019.
  8. US Department of Health and Human Services. Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Available at:  Accessed September 17, 2021.

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