Writing a Professional Will

Which would you rather do:  go to a movie, buy life insurance, or write a will?  It’s a no brainer!  Most of us would do almost anything else, rather than contemplate the possibility we may become incapacitated or die.  Yet, we all care about our clients and would want the best for them in any crisis.  Clinicians around the country are now biting the bullet and writing instructions for how to meet the needs of clients and tie up business matters, should the unthinkable happen.  These instructions can be thought of as a “professional will,” and can be attached to a personal will.

When is the right time for a clinician in private practice to write a professional will?  When you open your practice!  Most of us don’t think seriously about mortality until middle age or later.  When we are young, it is an abstraction, and at any age, it is a complicated and distressing proposition.  Understandably, we prefer to believe we will stop working by choice and in a planned manner.  We think about back-up arrangements only when we travel.  Yet, misfortune can strike at any time, not according to a schedule.  If you have a stroke or a serious car accident, someone—perhaps your spouse or partner, your best friend, or a colleague—will suddenly be thrust into the role of taking care of your practice.  They will have to discover ways to access your practice, when they themselves are in shock.   We owe it to our loved ones, our clients and ourselves to lay out an “emergency plan,” instructions we hope will never have to be implemented.  

You might think, “But I don’t know how to make these preparations.”  In truth, the biggest hurdle is our distaste for considering such an event.  It feels too terrible, not only for ourselves but for our loved ones and anyone else who depends on us.  The most challenging aspect of writing up these instructions is deciding to do it.

Once you decide to forge ahead--despite your resistance--there are more hurdles that may cause you to abandon the project.  You will be considering decisions that may cause you to shrink away.  Probably the most difficult decision will be:  who will you ask to take on these responsibilities?  Won’t this be a burden, too much to ask of anyone?  Other decisions will take some teasing out, as well.  Many questions will arise, including:  how do you want your “practice executor(s)” to notify your clients?  How will they get your client’s contact information?  Where will your estate store your records and for how long?  (Your state will have requirements for the latter.)  How long should your estate keep your phone in service?  Will your estate compensate your professional executor(s)?  Yet, all of these questions can be answered, and indeed will have to be answered by somebody else, if not by you.

After these decisions are made, the last hurdle that may yet deter you will be the sheer effort of addressing all these details and writing them up in a document.  You will be describing aspects of your business such as where to find office keys, passwords to your voice mail and your computer, how you bill clients, where you bank, and a multitude of other matters.  Covering these topics will take several hours.  Some may require you right now to do some housekeeping and reorganization.  Keep reminding yourself it is worth this effort.  You will feel a sense of accomplishment—or at the very least, relief--when it is done.  And in this case, you will hope it was all “much ado about nothing!”

{Reprinted from access, Winter 2008, Author Melinda C. Salzman, MSW}

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Legislative Alerts

  • 05/08/2015 - 10:21pm

     We were glad to note this month that NASW is joining us in pursuing our goals for Medicare parity. The more the social work community is united on legislative goals that benefit all LCSWs and our patients, the more successful we are likely to be.