My wife and I were traveling overseas a few years ago when a police officer confronted us. We hadn’t paid a transfer fee between trains — entirely our fault, a result of our not knowing the language well enough. Because we boarded without paying, we now owed a hefty fine, amounting to much more than the cash we had with us. As we tried, through a language barrier, to figure out how to resolve the situation, I had a moment of panic for my career.
I was supposed to be back in the office on Monday.
Thoughts and questions swirled around my head:
- If I were to land in jail, what would happen to my clients on Monday morning?
- Would they show up, only to find a locked door, and no word on what had happened?
- If I couldn’t contact them myself, how would they know that I was okay, or when I would be back?
- How long would it be before they gave up on me, and found another therapist?
Or worse: What would happen if a client went into crisis, and needed my help?
Life isn’t always under your control
We got the train situation resolved, and made it back to the US on time. That moment was instructive for me. I’d always thought planning for closing my practice was something I would need to consider as I approached retirement. (That’s still a long way off.) But retirement isn’t the only thing that can stop your work. Illness or another emergency could strike at any time.
The impact on your personal life from such an event can be bad enough. What happens to your clients? Who lets them know? Who would handle a client in crisis? Also, if you’re absent for an extended period, who pays your office rent, and responds to calls and emails?
Planning for such an emergency is like buying life insurance. It isn’t sexy, and hopefully, you never wind up needing it. It’s also an important act of caring and consideration for your clients and colleagues. It’s caring toward your loved ones, who might also be concerned for your clients’ well-being in case you have an emergency that requires an unplanned absence from your practice, but would not be sure how best to help.
You need a professional will. We have one for you.
The best and easiest way to plan for such instances is what’s called a professional will. Professional codes of ethics generally demand that therapists make plans in advance for unexpected absences, and a professional will is precisely that plan.
There are some sample professional wills available online, and having any professional will is likely better than having none at all. A professional will that identifies a colleague to take over for you, without providing clear and specific steps for accessing your office, accessing records, responding to client requests, and more, is one that may set up that trusted colleague for failure. They’ll have a hard time contacting clients per your request if they don’t have a key to your file cabinet or the password for your electronic records.
We’re proud to offer you a professional will template that covers these issues and many more. You can customize our template to meet the needs of your practice.
- Identify and plan with your executor
- Fully understand the ethical and practical need for a professional will
- Think through which components your executor will need
- Determine what your next steps are after the will is written so that it’s in the right hands at the right time.
Creating your professional will isn’t sexy, but it’s caring and wise. If you ever have a medical emergency — or, like me, a moment of panic on a foreign trip — you can rest assured that while you’re handling whatever it is that needs your attention right then, your clients’ care will continue uninterrupted.