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HIPAA and Estate Planning: What You Need to Know

HIPAA, known formally as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was enacted to protect your medical information so that only you and your healthcare providers would have access to it. Healthcare providers who fail to follow the Act face stiff financial penalties if they share your information without your permission. Because of these penalties, the law makes it difficult for healthcare providers to divulge anything to those who are concerned about you if you require medical attention and want to know the status of your condition.

To prevent this situation from occurring you should have an estate plan, and as part of this plan, you should include a HIPAA Authorization Form. This form plays an important part in your estate plan because it grants your healthcare providers permission to relay your medical or mental health information to your loved ones, thereby allowing them to make more informed decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Without it, your doctor or other healthcare provider generally cannot release any information regarding your medical diagnosis, records, or treatment to your spouse, children, or anyone else to whom you think should know this information. A HIPAA Authorization Form, when part of your estate plan, eliminates this hurdle. Its use becomes apparent if you find yourself in a situation where you cannot communicate and your advocates must make some difficult decisions regarding your healthcare.

Estate planners will often include some type of authorization to release medical information when drafting a durable power of attorney for healthcare. This type of power of attorney becomes important when someone has to make medical decisions on your behalf; however, a separate HIPAA Authorization Form lets medical providers know what specific data they may share and with whom they may share this information. The durable power of attorney for healthcare and the HIPAA Authorization Form work together.

What kinds of information does a HIPAA Authorization Form allow healthcare providers to share with your advocate? Quite a lot, actually. In addition to your name, address, and phone number, a HIPAA Authorization Form grants your advocate access to your medical records, emergency treatment and diagnosis information, and any prescriptions you currently take. The HIPAA Authorization Form also informs your advocate if you have a DNR (do not resuscitate) Order. Knowing that you have this order may make it easier for those around you if difficult decisions need to be made concerning your healthcare. The HIPAA Authorization Form also grants the advocates information regarding any behavioral or mental health services you may be receiving.

The HIPAA Authorization Form, when combined with your durable power of attorney for healthcare, acts as a powerful part of your estate plan because both documents provide your advocates and trustees with the tools to know your wishes and the means to ensure your wishes are followed.

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