The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), over the past year, has received numerous telephone calls from relatives of NASW members seeking assistance with the estate of a clinical social worker in solo or group practice who has died. In many situations, death and disability occur unexpectedly, therefore it is important for clinical social workers to prepare their private practice for such circumstances. Doing so allows for a smooth transition of services for patients during a difficult period, and prevents chaos for the person designated to close the practice and resolve paperwork.
Preparing Your Practice
Although you may not like to think about death, it is important for clinical social workers to consider provisions for their practice in the event of their death. Preparation of your practice for your death is the best way to allow for continuum of services. A suggested list of options include the following:
• Seek legal counsel and discuss options with an attorney about the estate of your practice.
• Prepare a will which includes directions for your solo or group practice.
• Select an appropriate colleague familiar with the practice of social work to handle the transfer or closing of patient matters.
• Include on your office’s intake form and/or contract with patient, provisions about services in the event of your death
• Make a list of referrals for patients to receive on-going services in the event you are unable to continue with services
• Make provisions for the disposition of the patients’ records, including identification of a storage place.
• Keep all records up to date.
Lack of Preparation
When there has been no preparation for the clinical social worker’s death, the executor of the estate or designee should consider the following options:
• Ensure confidentiality of patients’ records. No one is privy to the contents.
• Mail a letter to all of the clinical social worker’s patients to inform them of his or her death.
• Inform patients how they may obtain their files if needed.
• Give patients referral options to continue services if needed.
• Locate a safe, secure, place to store locked files. Check with state laws regarding record retention after the death of a provider.
• Notify the professional liability insurance agency of the clinical social worker’s death. Should the clinical social worker be insured under the NASW program, the Extended Reporting Period coverage may be available at no cost or for a nominal fee. This coverage is essential because it protects the estate from future malpractice suits that may qualify for coverage.
• Contact appropriate managed care companies and other insurance companies to inform them of the clinical social worker’s death.
• When appropriate, submit outstanding claim forms.
• Follow tips on NASW brochure, Retiring or Closing a Private Practice, Document No.914 which may be obtained from NASW’s Information Center, 1-800-638-8799.
Further questions or information on the death of a clinical social worker may be obtained from National NASW’s Division of Professional Development and Advocacy. Call (202) 336-8256.