HIPAA Releases Are an Important Element of Estate Planning

Surveys by various organizations show that only about one-third of all Americans have created a last will and testament, the essential building block of estate planning. The reasons for not having put a will in place range from “no idea how” to “I’m not wealthy enough.”

Contemplating the end of life is a tough subject to broach, but estate planning involves more than just designating who gets what after we pass away. One important aspect of estate planning is often overlooked, and that is to have plans in place should the unexpected happen to you. For instance, if you become incapacitated and hospitalized, you should designate someone to voice your medical care options for you through a living will.

Whether we leave our medical treatment choices to our family or create a living will, there could be obstacles in this process because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which restricts physicians and other medical providers from releasing confidential medical records without the patient’s permission. That’s why an essential component of estate planning is what is called a HIPAA release, which will allow named individuals access to your health records.

For comprehensive estate planning in or around Southlake, Texas, contact the Redding Law Office. Attorney Chelsea Redding focuses on all aspects of estate planning and can help you create a vision for the future that will assure everyone peace of mind. She also proudly serves clients throughout Tarrant County and Denton County as well as the surrounding cities of Flower Mound, Keller, and Colleyville.

What Is HIPAA?

In 1996, Congress enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Its enforcement was entrusted to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS soon developed three regulations to make HIPAA functional. 

The first was called the Privacy Rule, which restricts the unauthorized release of protected health information (PHI). The second was the Security Rule, which requires covered entities—physicians, medical groups, hospitals, and the like—to ensure that PHI is never hacked, lost, or stolen. The third was the Breach Rule, which requires covered entities to inform the victims if a leak does occur.

What Is a HIPAA Release?

A HIPAA release gives others access to your PHI and other medical documents, including accounting and bills. The HHS regulations state that “a covered entity is permitted to share information with a family member or other person involved in an individual’s care or payment for care as long as the individual does not object.”

The key here is that should you become incapacitated, you won’t be able to “not object”—thus the need for a HIPAA release.

Who Needs a HIPAA Release?

As part of your estate planning, you may choose to create a living trust, which names a successor trustee who will assume control of your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. The successor trustee should be given a HIPAA release to access your medical bills and pay them.

The same holds true if you’ve awarded a power of attorney to someone to make financial decisions for you when you can’t. That person, known as your agent or attorney in fact (who does not need to be an attorney), likewise will need a HIPAA release to pay medical bills.

As for a living will, this type of estate planning tool states your choices for treatment when you’re unable to do so yourself. It allows you to select whether to promote all life-sustaining treatments or to end life support if a condition is deemed terminal.

In the living will, which is similar to a power of attorney, you not only state your treatment preferences, but you also name a health care agent to voice those choices for you. Your health care agent will also need a HIPAA release.

Most importantly, of course, you can designate your spouse or other family members on your HIPAA release.

How to Create a HIPAA Release

Under HIPAA regulations, a release must:

  • Be a written document signed by the individual granting access
  • Identify the PHI to be disclosed
  • Identify the persons to whom access is being granted
  • Contain an expiration date
  • State the individual’s right to revoke the authorization
  • Acknowledge that the recipient(s) may disclose the PHI

Estate Planning Guidance You Can Trust

It’s been said that you’re never too young or too old to start estate planning—but you can be too late. If anything, the pandemic has shown us that the unexpected can rear its face at any time, so it’s important to plan not only for the care of your loved ones when you’re gone, but also for yourself in the event of health challenges. For all your estate planning needs—including creating a HIPAA release—in Southlake or anywhere else in Texas, contact attorney Chelsea Redding at the Redding Law Office today.


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