extended family

“With all these anxieties and unknowns weighing on your mind, it might feel like there’s suddenly a pressing need to get your affairs in order―just in case.”

Most people who contract COVID-19 experience mild symptoms, but it does not hurt to be prepared just in case you need to be hospitalized, explains the article “A Guide to Estate Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic” from HuffPost.com. It is scary to think about being so sick that you aren’t able to make decisions for yourself. However, that’s the point of an estate plan: to ease your fears. You’ll feel better knowing you’ve made health and financial decisions in advance so your loved ones won’t have to guess about your wishes.

Even without a global pandemic, everyone should have an estate plan. If you don’t have one, now is the time to get it done, even if you are single and have limited assets. An estate plan includes documents like a revocable trust, financial powers of attorney (FPOA), a health care proxy, called a health care power of attorney (HCPOA) in some stated, and more.

Right now, the health care proxy and financial power of attorney are on everyone’s mind. These two documents allow a person you name to do your banking, pay your bills and make medical decisions if you are quarantined at home, admitted to the hospital, or become incapacitated. If you don’t have a financial power of attorney, a family member will need to request the court appoint a guardian for you. This will be expensive and time-consuming. The same goes for the health care proxy or health care power of attorney. If a decision needs to be made in an emergency situation, the family will not have the ability to enforce your wishes.

In some states a living will, sometimes known as an advance health care directive, lets you be specific about what end-of-life treatment(s) you do or do not want to receive, if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious. Unless you at least discuss your wishes with your health care agent and create a health care proxy and, in certain states, also create a living will, the decision to remove life support must be made by loved ones without knowing what you want.

It also can be helpful to sign a HIPAA waiver if you are having surgery or hospitalized. This document permits your loved ones to access your medical information.

The last will and testament is the legal document that is used to direct distribution of property at the time of death, appoint an executor who will oversee the distribution of assets, and, if you have minor children, name a guardian for them. Without a last will, the court will rely on state laws to determine who inherits your property and who will raise your children.

A revocable living trust is a legal contract that creates an entity to hold your assets. As a revocable trust, you control it and you can make changes to it anytime you wish. If you become incapacitated or unable to manage your estate, the living trust avoids the need for a court-appointed conservatorship. When you create the living trust, you appoint a successor trustee who will step in when you are unable to manage your affairs. The living trust creates privacy, since the assets in the trust do not go through probate, which is a public process.

Once you have an estate plan, make sure that the documents are safe and the right people can access them. Some estate planning attorneys store documents for their clients. Copies of relevant documents should be given to your treating physician, financial advisor, family members and any trustees or agents. Keep high quality scanned copies on your computer, and label them, so that they can be identified. Don’t name them “Scan1” and “Scan2.” Label them accurately and include the date the documents were signed.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to ensure that you have all of the necessary documents to protect yourself, your loved ones and your property.

Reference: HuffPost.com (April 7, 2020) “A Guide to Estate Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic

For more information on asset preservation and estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.