I received a frantic phone call about four years ago. A psychologist who uses TherapyAppointment as their practice management system was killed in a car crash, and his staff were in a panic.
Who were his active clients? When were their appointments? Who should take over their care? How should they be informed of his death? Who should assume ownership of the records of past appointments, and who should be responsible for responding if there was a records request? If insurance checks came in, how should that money be handled? Would he have wanted his clients to be invited to the funeral? Should his practice be sold, or should it be given to a trusted colleague?
After receiving confirmation of his death, we were able to supply the office staff with answers to the first two of these questions… but we were as clueless about the others as anyone. At a time of great emotional upheaval and grief, his staff and his family had to struggle with their best guesses.
Do you need a practice will?
It could have been avoided, of course, but we all understand why it wasn’t. Tongue in cheek, it is said that there are two inevitables: death and taxes. Most of us assiduously avoid thinking about either of these dark issues. We are forced to reckon with the latter one annually, but we can ditch dealing with the former one completely.
But of course, that is irresponsible. With an hour’s careful thought, we can address ALL the questions that his staff struggled to answer, in a document that is both legally binding and easy to produce. No one enjoys thinking about their own mortality, but (as I know from personal experience) completing a will feels even better than mailing off your tax return. Done! Relief! Check that box and move on.
Of course, I am not talking about a financial will here: that is a separate document that you will probably want to co-produce with your attorney. You probably don’t want your financial will shown to your office staff. There is no need for them to know who gets the silverware or the paintings. I’m talking about a practice will: a separate document that only deals with the sort of issues addressed in the first paragraph of this blog post.
How do I create a practice will?
You don’t need to be creative. Use a professional will template.
There is no need to recreate the wheel OR the will. You can choose a format for a professional will that has been used by others, modifying it as needed to address any special circumstances.
One example of a professional will may be found on the APA website here.
This website suggests a separate document for information that will be very helpful to your staff or relatives, but which may change frequently. Examples are passwords to your practice management software (e.g. TherapyAppointment), your personal computer, your phone, etc.
But there are a few more items that you may want to consider including, either in the main body of the professional will or in this addendum list. You might include:
- Who should insurance checks be given to as they come in?
- Should invitations to the funeral be given to clients?
- Are there any office furnishings that you want to pass on to colleagues that aren’t mentioned in your main financial will? Who gets your treasured little statue of Jung?
- Which relative should they contact about clearing out your office?
Now that you have completed this important task, you can make it a double-header! About those taxes…