The possibility of prolonged sickness or even death from COVID-19 has caused many individuals to feel more urgency to prepare advanced directives and undertake other estate planning. In addition, the unknown final impact of the economic crisis may raise questions about how things might need to change in current plans that transfer wealth to children, charities or other beneficiaries upon death. With these factors present, there are three options to consider for estate planning.
- Advanced Directives. While planning for a health care emergency may be easier to complete before a crisis, it is not too late to get your advanced directives in place. Advanced directives are documents that express your wishes and authorize someone else (an agent) to make medical and financial decisions for you in the event you become so ill that you are unable to make your own decisions. Typically, this involves creating both a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Durable General (Financial) Power of Attorney. In addition to creating these documents, it is important to speak with your proposed agents about your intentions so that if they do have to make decisions, you know that they will carry out your wishes. If you already have these documents, review them to ensure they accurately reflect your current wishes and choice of agent(s). What do your current documents state regarding advanced life support (e.g. ventilators), and are there any changes you would like to make regarding end of life decisions?
- Make a Will or Trust. As the reality of the pandemic sinks in, people are reaching out to execute Wills or Trusts that they have put off finalizing, or to start estate plans that perhaps should have been put in place long ago. Estate planning is very easy to delay in the best of times, particularly when it involves finalizing some difficult decisions. Or maybe it is simply a matter of not wanting to face your own mortality. As the current health crisis reminds us, however, we never know exactly when our estate plans will be needed. Even if you already have your documents in place, make sure you know where the originals are located, and review them to be sure they still accurately reflect your wishes. For example, are the named executors in your Will and trustees in your trusts, as well as any successors, still suitable and willing to serve? Consider whether there have been any major life changes with your beneficiaries or changes in your assets since you completed your plan that would necessitate updating your documents. Focus on what makes sense to change right now and remember, you can always update your documents in the future. Finally, make sure that your beneficiary designations on life insurance, retirement accounts and other assets are up to date.
- Ask Your Attorney for Help. Most legal offices are open, and attorneys are being creative in order to help you complete your estate planning. We can assist you with getting your estate planning and advanced directives completed. Even if we do not meet in person, we can schedule consultations via telephone or video conference. Documents are then emailed or mailed to you for your review. Following your review, it is typical to have another video or phone conference to discuss any revisions or questions, and to discuss the logistics of getting your documents signed. Wills, trusts and advanced directives all have very specific execution requirements in order to be legal. Therefore, it is important to work with us to determine which documents in your plan can be signed remotely and which require in person witnessing and notarization.
We understand that completing your estate planning during a health crisis can be emotionally taxing; however, now may be the best time to take advantage of addressing your planning while these issues are on your mind. Our estate planning attorneys are happy to guide you through the process.