Perhaps there was a master plan that caused the traditional family gatherings of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas to fall so close together.

If you are into conspiracy theories, you might even question the motive behind throwing family members into close contact for days on end.

The incidental benefit is that after all of the forced family togetherness, you now have a good idea who you want to name on your HIPAA release.

You probably know the HIPAA release as that little box on the form you fill out whenever you go to a doctor’s office or hospital.  You are asked to list the contact person to receive your health care information.

There is, however, so much more to HIPAA than a one paragraph entry.

You need to use this little law to its full advantage.  That means signing a stand-alone document called a HIPAA Release.

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and it is a federal law.  There is also a Texas law, referred to as HB 300, which is basically HIPAA on steroids.

The HIPAA laws protect your medical information from wrongful disclosure.  They also impose some truly awe-inspiring penalties on the person or company who commits a wrongful disclosure.

Consequently, hospitals, doctors and other health-care providers are extremely cautious – some would say paranoid – about disclosing your health care information to anyone other than you.

For example, if you wind up in the emergency room after a car accident, the hospital may refuse to release any information about your condition to your parents, children, spouse, siblings, clergy members and friends.

If you do not want this result, then the easy answer is to sign a global HIPAA Release as part of your estate planning.

A valid HIPAA release appoints one or more persons or entities as “authorized recipients” to receive your medical information.   You can pick and choose about what you want disclosed.  The usual laundry list of information including medical history, condition, diagnosis, testing, prognosis, treatment, billing information and identity of health care providers.

You can also choose to allow your authorized recipients to ask the health care provider questions and discuss the information.

You will want to make the HIPAA release effective now, and not just on your incapacity.  The reason is that many doctors are reluctant to make a formal finding of incapacity, and if your HIPAA release is conditioned on your incapacity then your authorized recipient may be blocked from getting your information.

You might also consider making the release effective for at least 1 year after your death.  That way your authorized recipient can get records if there is a question of malpractice or a personal injury case.

You should give a copy of the HIPAA release to each of your authorized recipients so they will have it handy when needed.

So who do you choose as an authorized recipient?

Consider naming those family members, friends and clergy you are still talking to after this holiday season.

Virginia Hammerle is an attorney whose practice includes estate planning, litigation, and business law.  For more articles, see her blog at or sign up for her newsletter at