COVID-19 Highlights the Importance of Having an Estate Plan

COVID-19 estate plan

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to be prepared for the unexpected, and that includes having an estate plan in place to protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of an unforeseen illness or death. As many families struck by the coronavirus have found, not having these basic documents in place can add unnecessary costs and complications and put additional stress on both the ill person and their family.

A basic estate plan should include the following elements:

Financial Power of Attorney (sometimes called a Durable Power of Attorney)

A financial power of attorney designates a person of your choosing, known as an agent, and gives him or her the authority to manage your financial affairs if you are unable – either physically or mentally – to manage them yourself. This allows your agent to do things like write checks, pay bills, make deposits, and sign financial documents such as tax returns on your behalf. But you can design your power of attorney to confer as much or as little authority as you want.

Without a power of attorney, no one will be able to take these actions for you, without getting the court involved in a guardianship proceeding, which can take a long time and be expensive. In extraordinary times like these, when many courts are closed, it presents additional obstacles. These kinds of delays or obstacles cause long-lasting financial problems for you and your loved ones. It is also a good idea to designate a second power of attorney who can serve if your first agent is unable to.

Health Care Proxy

A health care proxy also designates an agent to act for you – in this case, to make medical and other healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated. It allows your spouse, family member or friend that you designate to speak with your medical professionals and gain access to your medical records to make informed decisions for you, such as consenting to certain surgical procedures or other treatment.

Without this document, these decisions will be made by your medical provider, who may or may not confer with the family member or friend you would have designated, causing conflict among family members who do not agree on how to proceed. In times such as these, when your family members may not even be able to accompany you to the hospital, it is even more important to have your health care proxy up to date and available. Again, you may wish to designate a backup healthcare proxy to ensure that someone is available to serve should something happen to you.

Living Will or Advance Healthcare Directive

A living will or advance healthcare directive is a document that provides your healthcare proxy and medical team with instructions about your medical and health wishes, most often about end-of-life care and life support. This document will allow you to specify whether you wish to receive treatment such as feeding, hydration and cardiac resuscitation if you become incapacitated or whether to terminate life support if your medical team determines that you have no chance of recovery. Once again, if you do not have these documents in place, these decisions will be left to your medical team, or to loved ones who may not know your preferences.

Last Will and Testament

While the first three documents in this list go into effect while you are still alive--though incapacitated or incompetent--your last will and testament only goes into effect upon your death. This is the document that allows you to designate what will happen to your property and other assets after your death. Your will also designate an agent, in this case an executor, who will be responsible for distributing your assets according to the terms of the will. You may also appoint a guardian or guardians to care for any minor children.

If you pass away without a last will and testament, your property will be distributed according to your state’s law, and the court will appoint someone to handle distribution of your assets. More than likely, this will not be the person you would have chosen, and the laws of intestacy will not distribute your assets in the way you would prefer. In addition, without a will, it is likely that there will be significant delay in the distribution of your assets.

These four documents make up the most basic estate plan, but your circumstances may require a more sophisticated estate plan, including trusts or other instruments to manage and distribute your assets. It is always wise to consult an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you determine what documents you need and what they should contain so that you may adequately protect yourself and your family. To find an estate planning attorney who can help, post your legal issue on our site, and attorneys will complete applications to meet your needs.

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Posted - 06/19/2020