More Power for your Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney allows someone you designate (your agent or attorney in fact) to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated. For this document to be effective, your agent may need to be able to access your medical information. Medical information is private. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects health care privacy and prevents disclosure of health care information to unauthorized people. HIPAA authorizes the release of medical information only to a patient’s personal representative.

HIPAA can be a problem if you have a springing power of attorney. A springing power of attorney does not go into effect until you become incapacitated. This means your agent does not have any authority until you are declared incompetent. Under HIPAA, the agent will not be able to get the medical information necessary to determine incompetence until the agent has authority.

To eliminate this problem, your Power of Attorney should contain a HIPAA clause that indicates that the agent is also the personal representative for purposes of health care disclosures under HIPAA. A HIPAA authorization form should also be signed which explains what medical information can be disclosed, who can make the disclosure and to whom the disclosure can be made.

Consult your estate planning attorney for further information.