What to do when your client is deceased?
Your client committed suicide. Can you go to the funeral? If you believe that there will be hard feelings from the family because they believe that you failed to prevent the client from suicide, it may disturb them during their grieving process if they see you at the funeral. Perhaps an informal telephone call to one or more of the client’s family members well before the funeral to assess prospective action will provide you with signals and clarification for prospective action.
Your client passed away unexpectedly, and now his mother called and wants to talk to you. Should you call her back? No. HIPAA privacy survives death, and unless you have a release from the client to speak to his mother prior to his death, you cannot talk to her now. The only person you can legally talk to is the personal representative of the deceased client’s estate and that person can sign a release for you to speak to anyone and to release a copy of your chart if requested. Make sure that you get a copy of the court order appointing that person as personal representative of the estate.
Your client committed suicide over the weekend and your boss wants you to call the family and find out what happened. Should you? No. Again, HIPAA privacy survives death. You cannot talk to anyone without a release and the family probably does not want to talk to you right now. Wait for them to come to you and use the same rule as above. Only a person you consent to talk to but, again, the personal representative is better.
A free service for NASW RRG policyholders, the Helpline is available for questions regarding a variety of practice interactions, risk mitigation, and general guidance. The most frequent categories of Helpline questions fall within the following categories: