As a part of many estate planning documents, individuals are called on to get medical information about another. The main example is a health care directive which states who is to make health care decisions for you in case you're incapacitated. That person will need to have full access to your medical records in order to make an informed decision. Another document is a trust that states that a certain action will be triggered upon disability as decided by a medical doctor. In order for the trustee to know if the individual is disabled, they will need to have access to medical records and information from the individual's doctor. However, HIPAA can impede these individuals from getting access.
HIPAA, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a federal law that was enacted to standardize data gathering and sharing in the medical field. A part of this act protects an individuals' health care information from being disclosed. Individuals acting in the capacity as a "personal representative", such as under a health care directive, are specifically allowed to have access to medical information. However, there have been many anecdotal reports of medical providers refusing to release information to the personal representative, citing HIPAA concerns, even in spite of what the federal regulations state. Additionally, there is no exception for trustees, attempting to determine the status of an individual for purposes of the trust.
These problems can be avoided through a HIPAA waiver, signed by the individual. It is a single page document that need not be made a part of the trust or directive, but can be provided to a trustee or personal representative to prevent HIPAA issues.
If you are contemplating a trust or health care directive or already have one in place, which doesn't address HIPAA, contact a licensed attorney.