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» Privacy & estates
» E-etiquette


New privacy law could
interfere with estate

Recently, a man took his wife to the hospital. He dropped her off and went home to get some papers he had forgotten to bring with him. Upon returning to the hospital, he was unable to find out anything about his wife. The hospital staff would not even admit that she was in the hospital! Why did this happen?

Recent federal laws and regulations have created new privacy protections for your medical information. These laws are found in HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Now physicians, hospitals, health insurers and other "covered entities" must comply with strict rules or face fines and potential criminal penalties. An innocent mistake would incur a fine of $100. More serious breaches of privacy, such as releasing information for malicious harm, could result in fines of up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison. Understandably, health-care providers are being extremely careful about the release of medical information in the face of such penalties.

None of us wants our personal medical history to be the subject of office water-cooler gossip or sold to the highest bidder. However, there are circumstances in which we may want some people to have access to our medical information. For example, if you check into a hospital and do not authorize release of medical information, the hospital will not release information about you to anyone. In fact, the hospital will tell callers that they have no information about you. This could leave relatives searching for you and unable to find out where you are or how you are doing. (In this event, the HIPAA privacy hotline, (866) 627-7748, may be of some assistance.)

This privacy rule also can thwart an otherwise well-implemented estate plan. Successor trustees typically do not have authority to act for you unless you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Many trusts provide that a certification from your physician(s) is determinative of the issue. However, your physician(s) will not certify your incapacity unless you have authorized the release of medical information. Of course, if you lack capacity, you cannot authorize such release. Without the release of information, your successor trustees cannot establish your incapacity. Without establishing your incapacity, they cannot step in to take care of you and preserve your assets.

But there is a solution. You can sign a HIPAA authorization form that allows release of medical information to your agents and trustees, your family and other people whom you designate. Note this is different from the Health Care Power of Attorney, which appoints someone to make medical decisions for you when you are unable to do so yourself. By law, the HIPAA authorization must be a separate document.

With such an authorization, those closest to you can obtain necessary medical information about you. A qualified estate planning attorney can help you in this matter.

Attorneys Judith Sterling and Michelle Tucker are partners in the Honolulu law firm of Sterling & Tucker. Reach them through or, or by calling 531-5391.


In business, etiquette
goes a long way

It has often been said that as technology progresses people lose track of their social skills and common sense. I have found this to be true, especially in the way people use technology to communicate; particularly e-mail and cell phones.

While I'm no Miss Manners, I'd like to share a few lessons that I've learned.

Let's start with email. Email has been in widespread use since the late 1990's. Almost everyone who has a computer has an e-mail address. It's easy to use and convenient, especially for those of us who live out here in the middle of the sea.

By now, most people know the simple rules, such as a message completely in uppercase is the equivalent of yelling. You don't do this unless you really want to emphasize a point. Many folks like to use widely known acronyms, such as LOL (laughing out loud) or BTW (by the way). Many others employ the :) or ;) for smiles and winks. While these are fine if you're conversing with family members or friends, avoid them in a business context, especially with people you've never met or established a working relationship with.

Ten years ago, would you have started a business letter to a prospective client with "Hi Bill?" Would you have typed a letter entirely in lower case without any paragraphs? It's best to keep your business communications formal and it doesn't take much more effort to ensure that your e-mails are grammatically correct. If need be, type your email into your word processor, do a quick spell/grammar check, then cut and paste the message into your e-mail. For lengthy correspondence, simply include a word processing document as an attachment.

Another lesson I've learned is to not over-use the "priority" flagging. Again, think about how you might have done this without e-mail. Certainly, it was easy enough in the old days to mark a letter "Urgent." In fact, many offices had a rubber stamp with red ink just for this purpose. Nowadays, some people mark almost all of their e-mail "urgent" or "high-priority." This actually has a counter-effect -- like the boy who cried wolf. If every message you send your boss is flagged urgent, I can assure you, he won't think any of them are.

For business communications, use a signature line. In the early days of the Net, there were some guidelines on how much information to put in your "sig." These guidelines were based largely on the fact that most users only had slow dial-up connections and a sig that was too big would take a long time to download.

With the proliferation of high-speed access, this is much less of a concern. You should include, at a minimum, your name, company, street address, office telephone number and e-mail address. Optional items include your title, fax, cell, and home phone numbers. A link to your company's Web site is a great marketing opportunity. Virtually every e-mail client has the capability to automatically add a standard signature line, so this can be done quickly and easily.

Responding to e-mails should be within whatever guideline you use to respond to other types of messages. If you respond to phone messages within a business day, you should apply the same standard to e-mail. If you won't have access to your e-mail for an extended period of time, consider using an "out-of-the-office" automated reply if your e-mail client supports this feature. For Outlook Express users, you can Google "outlook express autoresponder" and you will find several different articles explaining how to set this up. Use it only when you know you won't be able to respond within your normal response time.

As for cell phones, there are certain mannerisms that I always thought were just my personal pet peeves. Over time, however, I've discovered that the most people agree with me. For example, I've been in meetings and presentations when a cell phone has gone off and the speaker will sarcastically ask "is that for me?"

It's rude and annoying. So if you're going into a meeting, seminar, or presentation, put your phone in silent mode or on vibrate. If you can't accomplish this simple task, you shouldn't be carrying a cell phone because you might inadvertently forget to breathe (insert smiley symbol here).

Understandably, putting your phone in silent mode may not be the first thing on your mind as you enter the room. So if your phone rings in the middle of the meeting, immediately turn it off. If you don't have voice mail on your cell phone, it's time get a new plan. Depending on the situation, it may be acceptable to leave the room to take the call. If someone else's phone rings, that should serve as a reminder to turn your phone's ringer off.

Certainly, there are exceptions for CEOs and the like, but if the call is so much more important than the meeting, you might rethink attending. My experience, as well as that of numerous colleagues, is that CEOs and high-level executives very rarely violate these tenets. If you are expecting an important call, and it is a small meeting, it may be appropriate to warn people that you are expecting a call -- but you should still turn your ringer off.

Following these simple rules makes it easier to avoid "stink-eye." Technology still hasn't replaced that.

John Agsalud is president of ISDI Technologies, Inc., a Honolulu-based IT consultancy, specializing in software development, systems integration, and outsourcing. E-mail or call 944 8742.

To participate in the Think Inc. discussion, e-mail your comments to; fax them to 529-4750; or mail them to Think Inc., Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813. Anonymous submissions will be discarded.


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