A professional will is a document used by mental health care providers to outline how the closing of a practice should be handled in the event of unexpected closure or termination of services.
Understanding Professional Wills
In the event of death or disability or other unexpected circumstances that would prevent a therapist or mental health practitioner from continuing to provide service, a large number of tasks typically need to be completed. These tasks might include notifying those who were receiving services, closing the office or facility, closing out records, and completing all billing. A professional will establishes a plan for the unexpected closure of a practice in order ensures all of these tasks will be adequately addressed.
A professional will names an executor (typically another mental health professional) who will take on the responsibility of handling legal issues and notifying those who had been receiving services. The will also typically includes all of the information the executor will need to complete these tasks, such as computer passwords, the location of records and keys, and contact numbers so that people in treatment and other relevant parties (billing agencies, landlords, attorney, secretaries, etc.) can be informed of the situation. The executor is typically given full access to all records and facilities to ensure that the practice is thoroughly and properly closed.
The Importance of Professional Wills in Mental Health Care
Professional wills can be beneficial to mental health providers for practical, legal, and ethical purposes. From a practical standpoint, a professional will helps prevent confusion by outlining a clear plan for the unexpected closure of a practice and naming an individual to be responsible for overseeing that plan. Because many states have laws that outline how long a therapist must maintain records (even after they are deceased), a professional will can help to ensure all relevant legal statutes are being adequately followed. In addition, a professional will helps providers fulfill their ethical obligation of preparing for unexpected termination of treatment.
Professional wills also serve to protect therapists’ colleagues and family members, as well as the people therapists treat. In the absence of a professional will, a therapist’s spouse or another colleague may be forced to deal with their professional affairs without adequate training or preparation. This can cause undue burden on these individuals and may also result in substandard care of the individuals being treated. A professional will can enhance continuity of care for people in treatment by providing referral information for other therapists who may be able to provide ongoing services. A professional will can also decrease the likelihood of a therapist’s estate being sued, saving their loved ones from additional legal issues and unnecessary stress.
How Can Therapists Create a Professional Will?
For most therapists who have a private practice, developing a professional will is a fairly straightforward process. Some professional organizations may provide a template or outline for providers to use, but it is generally recommended that therapists consult with a knowledgeable attorney in order to ensure their will is both valid and adequately meets their individual needs.
A crucial component of creating a professional will is choosing an executor. Typically, a therapist selects a trusted colleague who is amenable to serving in the role.
The professional will should include clear and thorough instructions for notifying people in treatment of the termination of services. One factor to consider is the possibility of people in therapy not having informed their loved ones they are receiving therapeutic services. Thus, it is important to consider their privacy before calling their home, for example. To protect the privacy of people in treatment, a therapist may choose to notify them via their voicemail answering system, a notice posted on their office door, their website, or a posting in a local newspaper. It may also be useful for a therapist to notify individuals at the beginning of treatment about the existence of the professional will so they are not caught off guard if they are contacted by the executor of the will in the event of an unexpected circumstance.
- Holloway, J. D. (2003). Professional will: A responsible thing to do. Monitor on Psychology, 34(2). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb03/will.aspx
- Further instructions and considerations in preparing a professional will. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.apapracticecentral.org/business/management/professional-will-instructions.aspx
- Zur Institute. (n.d.). The professional will. Retrieved from http://www.zurinstitute.com/wills_clinicalupdate.html
Last Updated: 01-13-2017
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MarioDecember 21st, 2021 at 11:09 AM
While I completely agree with the need to prepare such a document, it’s somewhat inaccurate (legally) to refer to such a document as a Professional Will, because it’s not actually a Will for the practice, but instead, a Will for the individual. Within the Legal Profession this would be considered “succession planning” and it has more to do with the managing member/partner/or therapist and less to do with the actual practice. Succession planning isn’t exclusively tied to death, but instead, can also be for retirement or transitioning to a different area or any other reason why people may choose to move on from her or his practice. To refer to such a document as a “professional will” does the underlying concept a disservice, as everyone should have a plan in place for what occurs if they can no longer assist with the work they’re presently doing. Perhaps instead of calling it a “professional will” it can be referred to as a SUCCESSION PLAN so as to help those who need to create one, understand that it’s not relegated exclusively to death or disability, but instead, if any set of circumstances arise and result in the principal no longer being in a position to do principal duties. Just a thought from an Estate Planning Attorney who was asked by a mental health specialist to assist with such an endeavor, and sent me this article as a frame of reference.
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