The Death of a Therapist: What Happens to Their Therapy Practice and the Role of a Clinical Executor

It is important for therapists to have a plan in place for their therapy practice in the event of their death or incapacitation.

The Death of a Therapist: What Happens to Their Therapy Practice and the Role of a Clinical Executor

Do I need a Therapy Will?

As some of you will know, I’m a supervisor and assessor for “BrainWorking Recursive Therapy”. During a recent supervisors meeting one of my colleagues was asked about a Therapy Will. I have to confess that a Will specifically for our therapy practice, wasn’t something that many of us had given much thought to and it generated a bit of discussion.

In my blog Planning for the Unexpected, I outlined some of the things you may need to consider if you died or were incapacitated whilst actively working as a therapist. In this blog, I want to explore the impact a therapist’s death may have on their clients and discuss the role of a clinical executor.

Death of a Therapist and Its Impact on Clients

The death of a therapist can have a profound impact on their clients. When a therapist passes away, it not only affects the immediate circle of family and friends, but also the individuals who relied on their guidance and support. Whilst many complementary or alternative therapists may only have brief interactions with clients - perhaps 1 - 6 sessions - some may have longer-term relationships. I know some therapists and counsellors who work with clients for many years.

Losing a therapist can be an emotionally challenging experience for clients who have established a strong therapeutic relationship with them. The sudden absence of someone who provided guidance, empathy, and understanding can leave clients feeling lost and uncertain about their future in therapy. Additionally, unresolved issues or unfinished work may arise as a result of the therapist's death.

Therapists' colleagues may also struggle to come to terms with their loss. They may have formed professional relationships built on trust and collaboration, making it difficult to navigate through their own grief while continuing to provide support for their clients. This is where a Clinical Executor could be helpful.

The Role of a Clinical Executor

A clinical executor is important in managing a deceased therapist's practice. When a therapist passes away, the responsibility of handling their practice falls upon the clinical executor. This individual is entrusted with various important tasks to ensure the smooth transition and continuation of the therapist's work or of closing the practice and overseeing the confidentiality of client records.

The primary responsibility of a clinical executor is to manage all administrative and legal aspects related to the therapist's practice after their death. This includes notifying clients, colleagues, and relevant authorities about the therapist's passing, as well as handling any necessary paperwork such as closing the practice, stopping any marketing or directory listings, and notifying insurance policies.

An important role of the clinical executor is safeguarding confidential information and maintaining client privacy. They must ensure that client records are securely stored or appropriately disposed of in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. 

For instance, my insurance company, Holistic, states that I have to keep client records for five years after completion of sessions. Yours probably does too. On speaking to them I discovered that this five year timescale also applies after my death. When I retire I knew I needed to keep my client records for five years. What I hadn't known was that if I die during that time, my executor needs to keep those records for the time remaining up to five years. This is in case there is a claim on my estate!

Who can be a clinical executor?

A clinical executor is most likely to be another therapist or supervisor. It would be someone familiar with the legal and ethical issues as regards running a practice such as appropriate handling of client records and confidentiality. It is important that clients know who might have access to their records in the event of your death or incapacitation. It may be a life partner who has helped in the business and whom the clients know has access to their records. This information should be stated in your client agreement. I let clients know that my husband helps with my business and will have access to records if needed.

It might be worth checking with your own insurance company for guidance. This is the response from Information Commissioners's Office (ICO) in the UK. "The data protection laws do not compel you to have a ‘Therapy Will’ in place in the event of your death. But we do advise it is good practice to have a robust plan should such an event occur.

You may wish to appoint an individual to assume control of your business, or transfer the data to another organisation if you feel this appropriate. You should consider setting this out in your privacy notice and sending it out to your clients so they know what might happen to their information."

What Does the Clinical Executor Need to Know?

You will want them to know, among other things:

  • Where your records are kept

  • What passwords you have for your work-related sites and accounts

  • Where you advertise

  • What social media you use

  • What you want sent to existing clients notifying them of your death

  • Who your non-work executors are as they may need a death certificate

This is where having a Therapy Will could help. You may want to have a file that contains all this information. You could have an outline letter you want to be sent to current clients. You might have a list of resources offering grief support that could also be sent to clients. You may have a list of other therapists the Executor could refer them to, in discussion with the client.

I know it’s not pleasant to think about one’s own death. However, we know, better than most, how death and grieving impacts people. Having a Will written for both our therapy practice and our whole life can help make this time a little easier for our close family and our current clients. In a way it is just a continuation of the work we do - helping people cope with life ….. and death.

P.S. Feel free to share this post if you think others might find it interesting.

Categories: Private Practice