Practice Management Blog

Why You Need a Professional Will for Your Private Practice

This article is written by Nicole Arzt, LMFT

When therapists first consider opening a private practice, they’re often inundated with sound advice. Get a website! Make sure you have nice headshots! Know your niche! Don’t overlook having good supervision.

Despite all these important recommendations, people rarely discuss the importance of having a professional will. But it was one of the first steps I took when opening my business. Early in my training days, I worked with a client whose previous therapist had died unexpectedly. She had been both shocked and devastated by this tragedy. At the time, she and her therapist had been engaged in serious, long-term trauma treatment. Unfortunately, her late therapist had not created a professional will. This resulted in no continuity of care, no referrals in place, and the unfortunate experience of discovering the death via a social media post.

Of course, no therapist can predict what the future holds. However, we must do our due diligence in preparing for the unexpected. This is what it means to truly support clients – during (and potentially after) treatment.

Consequences of Not Having a Professional Will

Therapists and clients unquestionably build unique and intimate attachments throughout psychotherapy. A professional will ensures that you keep their best interest in mind should something happen to you.

Without a professional will, your clients may have no way of knowing the cause of your absence. They might feel stranded or abandoned in the event of your sudden departure. In addition, you risk burdening other colleagues or family members with the task of “cleaning up” your business affairs without having any real source of direction.

Other consequences of not having a professional will include:

  • Confidentiality concerns: Without providing specific directions on how to manage client records, you risk unintentional confidentiality breaches.
  • Legal issues: Legal challenges may arise in response to the management of client records or asset distribution. In some cases, this can impact your personal estate, potentially burdening your loved ones.
  • Financial implications: Your professional will specifies direction for financial concerns, including bill payments, client fees and business debt. Without this written down, people may simply have to guess what you wish to be done with your business.
  • Disruption of continuity of care: One of the most significant consequences of not having a professional will is that your clients could be left without therapeutic support during a particularly vulnerable time. This can unquestionably impact their mental health and affect overall treatment goals.

Benefits of Having a Professional Will

Professional wills detail what will happen to your practice if you can’t meet with your clients. A standard professional will template includes guidelines for addressing multiple parts of your business, including client notification, financial management, succession planning and more.

You will name a primary (and possibly secondary) executor to carry out the tasks listed in your professional will. This ensures your business and your clients will be in good hands. Without designating an executor, you can’t guarantee how your clients will find out about your departure. You also can’t control what happens to your office, practice software, website, social media presence and more.

Finally, having a professional will is consistent with the regulations and ethical standards set by most clinical licensing boards. It’s important to understand that your obligations to clients don’t conclude abruptly in the event of unexpected incapacity or death. As a healthcare provider, it’s vital to prioritize continuity of care and uphold best practices.

Professional Will Recommendations + Template

Keep in mind that you’ll need to consider the following when making your professional will:

Professional Executor: This designated individual acts on your behalf and carries out the specified tasks listed in your will. Most healthcare providers select a trusted colleague, but you might also designate a friend or family member. It may be wise to choose a secondary executor who can step in if your primary one is unavailable.

Client notification best practices: Your professional will needs to outline how and when your executor will contact clients about your absence.

Client records and specific access protocol: Your professional will provides instructions for how your executor can access your client records along with other relevant practice software. This applies whether you have a brick-and-mortar office, virtual business or both.

Succession planning: Your professional will can include preferred referrals for ongoing client care.

Financial concerns: Your professional will provides instructions for managing the financial logistics of your practice, including what to do about outstanding client balances and guidelines for continuing to pay direct office expenses.

Other business practices: Your professional will may include information about handling social media content, website information and how and when to contact various directories or licensing boards about your absence.

Unforeseen circumstances can strike at any time. Preparing for the worst can give you (and your clients) much-needed peace of mind. No matter where you are in your career, the best time to develop your professional will is right now.

Ready to get started? You can use a professional will template to begin the drafting process.

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Nicole Arzt is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author working in private practice in Orange County, CA. Nicole has worked in various settings throughout her career, including hospitals, schools, nonprofit community health clinics and private practice.

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