Amid the chaos of COVID-19, estate planners and elder law attorneys across the country are busy fielding calls and questions about how to prepare for the global pandemic. After all, aside from drafting and executing estate planning documents, these lawyers offer peace of mind to clients—and that peace of mind is invaluable. So, whether you are facing a global pandemic or a smaller personal crisis, here are the top five planning tools to offer that peace of mind.
- Health Care Powers of Attorney: This is a document where you, as a Principal, can direct a person to make health care choices for you when you cannot make or communicate your own health care decisions. While often physicians will seek health decisions from a spouse or adult children, this document becomes critical when there is no one to make health choices for you or if there is conflict among family members over your care. This document is especially important for young adults, unmarried partners, single people, or people who distrust their family members’ judgment as these individuals may want only certain people to make these critical health decisions. Your peace of mind is gained by appointing the people you trust to guide your health care. The added bonus is that your friends and family will also know your plan, which brings them peace of mind, too. Without this document, there is a possibility of having a court-appointed guardian make decisions, and that person may not make the same decisions that you would have wanted.
- Advanced Directives: Some people feel very strongly about end-of-life care and choices. For those people, putting those wishes in a legal document ensures that those wishes can be carried out effectively by a Health Care Agent. These decisions range from decisions to be intubated or on a ventilator to receiving artificial hydration and nutrition to burial or cremation decisions to organ donation or autopsy. You gain peace of mind by having these decisions in place; your loved ones have peace of mind knowing they will make the right choices for you.
- HIPAA Authorization: This authorization allows other people to receive information about your health status. There may be people that you want to have access to this information; conversely, there may be people that you do not want to have access to this information. This authorization makes it clear who can receive that information and who cannot.
- Durable Powers of Attorney: This is a legal document that allows you, as a Principal, to appoint a trusted person, as an Agent, to access your assets or make financial decisions or transactions on your behalf. This document is effective only during your lifetime, which is why it is so important. An Agent’s ability to act for the Principal can be limited to times of emergency such as when you are incapacitated. This document is critical for your Agent’s access to your bank accounts to pay your bills in a time when you cannot. This document is critical for your Agent’s ability to trigger a long-term care insurance policy if you need care. This document is critical for ensuring your taxes can be paid if you cannot pay them. Real estate transactions are almost impossible without this document. This document, when drafted carefully, can offer asset protection so that you can preserve your assets for a spouse or loved ones. Truly, this is one of the most important documents an adult could have. Without it, your loved ones are forced to seek a court-appointed guardian to handle your assets; likely there will be no asset protection allowed by the guardian. The peace of mind gained from this document alone is mighty because for elder law attorneys, it is the unsung hero of asset protection. For more information on Durable Powers of Attorney, click here.
- Wills or Trusts: Clients place an extraordinary amount of weight on the peace of mind that a Will or Trust brings to their estate plans. These legal documents are directives for your loved ones for handling your things. A Will informs others how your assets should be distributed upon your death to your loved ones as the estate passes through a public process called probate. A living trust can be effective during your lifetime, and when it is funded appropriately, it can serve to avoid the probate process and probate fees. A Will or a living trust directs others how to distribute your assets, who can receive those assets, when loved ones can receive those assets, and how much of your assets loved ones can receive. A person who handles trust assets for you is a Trustee. A person who handles your assets of your estate is an Executor or a Personal Representative. These roles can look similar at times. The first question most clients ask is whether they need a Will or a living trust. An attorney can guide you through the decisions to identify when a living trust may make more sense, as the answer is fact-specific and dependent on your unique circumstances. In many cases, a Living Trust serves these clients best: clients with out-of-state real estate, blended families, heirs or beneficiaries who are unable to responsibly handle money, heirs or beneficiaries with special needs, for long-term care asset protection, for avoiding a Will caveat or challenge to a Will, for avoiding probate fees or the hassles of probate, or for privacy.
In short, if your plans include social-distancing, self-quarantine, or even just a shelter in place at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, take the time to review your plans and your estate. See if your estate plan still meets your needs. You may need an attorney to review whether your existing documents still fit your current goals. In any case, know that your attorneys are working hard to bring you the peace of mind you deserve — whether you are in a crisis or not.