July 4th, 2020
As the first wave of the Coronavirus begins to strengthen in the US, it has become clear that the pandemic will be with us for a while. So what does the pandemic have to do with estate planning?
Remember, estate planning is not just your legal documents, but the entire plan to take care of all that’s important in the event of incapacity or death. Your legal documents are part of the plan, but the plan extends to every area that might be impacted in the event of your disability or death.
Now each of us needs to be prepared for the uniqueness of a possible COVID-related illness or hospitalization. Even if you’re hospitalized for something totally unrelated the rules have changed. Nobody can visit you in the hospital, nobody can bring the documents and other items you need. Communication with doctors has become more complicated, and getting proof that your loved one is in the hospital temporarily incapacitated has become more difficult.
Every area of your plan needs to be reconsidered when the world changes.
One of the most important things you can do right now is make sure your healthcare information and documents are with you if you need to take an emergency trip to the hospital. We recommend an emergency envelope, with copies of your healthcare directives, Financial Power of Attorney, and insurance card.
The outside of the envelope should have all of the information healthcare professionals might need about your emergency contacts, medications, medical conditions, and special instructions.
Keep this envelope somewhere easy to access, maybe even next to your front door. We also recommend packing a COVID Go-Bag.
Estate Planning Documents
As far as your estate planning documents go, there are several changes we recommend you consider depending on your circumstances.
- Financial Power of Attorney
Is your agent (and any backup) still the right one for the job? Do you have backups listed? They’re more important than ever, in case your first choice is also sick. And when appropriate, we recommend you consider making your POA effective immediately rather than waiting until it’s needed, as it can be a lot more difficult right now to get the doctor’s notes needed to show you’re unable to act on your own.
- Healthcare Directives
Do you have the right agent? Do you have backups listed? Have you had The Conversation with your loved ones so that they know your wishes, including for a ventilator? Have you reviewed your wishes to make sure they apply specifically for COVID? For example, you might be interested in experimental medications now that wouldn’t have interested you before. Some people benefit from a COVID-specific addendum to their medical directives.
- Last Will & Testament
Remember that a Will needs to go through probate if you own any real estate. It may be more important than ever to avoid probate, since the courts are at least partially closed and everything has become more difficult. Do you have the right Personal Representative? The right beneficiaries? It’s also important to note that your Will can’t be changed once you’re incapacitated, unlike a Trust.
- Revocable Living Trust
Is your trust fully funded, ensuring your family will avoid probate when you die? Do you have the right Successor Trustee, and backups? Do you have a Trust Protector or Special Co-Trustee who can act if necessary while you’re sick? And like with the Power of Attorney, we’re recommending that you consider making your Successor Trustee a current Co-Trustee in order to minimize the burden if you’re sick for a while with COVID.
Ensure the beneficiaries you’ve listed on your life insurance and retirement accounts are up-to-date. While you’re at it, if you have a Revocable Living Trust, make sure it owns all of your assets (other than your retirement plans, of course).
Ensure updated documents are on file. Give loved ones copy of your card so they can easily access your documents in the event of an emergency (you can snap a photo and text it to them).
We are here to help you navigate these new waters. Call our office to schedule an appointment with an attorney. We’ll walk through your current plan and be able to make recommendations for anything you might need to change or update.