An important part of estate planning is to empower people you trust to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated by an illness or injury and are unable to communicate your wishes. Common documents used for this purpose include:

  • A living will, which expresses your preferences regarding life-sustaining medical treatment, and
  • A health care power of attorney, which authorizes your representative to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Even if you’ve signed these documents, however, your representatives may not be able to make informed decisions about your care unless they have access to your medical records and information. That’s because the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits health care providers from using certain sensitive patient health information or sharing it with third parties absent the patient’s consent. So, to ensure that your living will or health care power of attorney is effective, you should also sign a HIPAA authorization.

  • To be valid, a HIPAA authorization must meet certain requirements. Among other things, it must:
  • Specify the health information that may be used or disclosed,
  • Specify the person or class of persons authorized to use or disclose the information,
  • Specify the person or class of persons to whom the information may be disclosed,
  • Describe the purpose of the requested use or disclosure (for example, simply say, “at the request of the individual”),
  • Set an expiration date or expiration event (for example, “the end of the research study”), and
  • Be signed and dated by you.

A HIPAA authorization may be incorporated into your living will, health care power of attorney or other document, but it may be a good idea to use a standalone authorization. Some health care providers are reluctant to honor older authorizations, so your document should be updated every few years.

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Disclaimer: The THK Legal Blog is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. In no case does the published material constitute an exhaustive legal study, and applicability to a particular situation depends upon an investigation of specific facts. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. All THK blogs are considered advertising material by the Indiana Bar Association.