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Chronic illness and estate planning

Almost 157 million people in the United States will have some form of chronic illness. For people in Virginia who have a chronic illness or has a loved one who is chronically ill, it is essential that they have an estate plan that adequately addresses their health and aging issues.

The legal documents that should be in the estate plans for people with chronic illnesses are typically no different than those for typical estate plans for people who are not chronically ill. However, it may be necessary to modify the legal documents so that they are able to directly address specific needs and challenges.

People who receive a diagnosis of a chronic medical condition should make sure that the appropriate documents are in place as soon as possible. Depending on the type of illness in question, their ability to comprehend and sign legal documents can soon be hindered.

One key document people with chronic illnesses should have in their estate plan is a HIPAA release. The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was created to ensure the confidentiality of protected health information; the law makes the distribution of personal health information to unauthorized parties illegal. However, with a HIPAA release, individuals can choose a designated party to have access to their private health information. The release should be in written form and should state that the individual is making it of their own free will. It should also detail the type of health information that can be disclosed.

An estate planning attorney may consider the factors of a client's situation and may recommend certain legal tools to include in a tailored estate plan. The attorney may assist with drafting the documents so that the medical and financial preferences of clients can be honored should they become incapacitated.

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