Corporate Compliance

HIPAA Q&A: Power of attorney

Compliance Monitor, February 22, 2012

Q: Is a power of attorney still effective after a patient’s death? I was told that a woman whose husband died was not allowed to get a copy of his medical record. She had his power of attorney, but the hospital told her that the power of attorney died with him. Is that true?

A. A power of attorney is only effective while the individual is living. When an individual dies, his or her legal representative is the executor of the individual’s estate, if one was named in the individual’s will. If there is no executor, state law generally establishes a priority order for next of kin who may manage the patient’s estate. Usually, this includes the decedent’s spouse (if married at the time of death), adult children, parents, the decedent’s adult brothers and/or sisters, and nieces and/or nephews, if there are no other relatives.

Editor’s note: Mary D. Brandt, MBA, RHIA, CHE, CHPS, vice president of HIM at Scott & White Healthcare in Temple, TX answered this question. Brandt is a nationally recognized expert on patient privacy, information security, and regulatory compliance, and her publications provided some of the basis for HIPAA’s privacy regulations.