With the number of COVID-19 cases in America increasing exponentially, people across the country are preparing themselves for every possible scenario. As a result, many estate planning attorneys are being inundated with calls and emails about how to plan for this type of pandemic.
While the following six tools are essential for estate planning at any time, they are especially important during a time of crisis such as the current coronavirus outbreak. Ideally, every adult should have an estate plan in place and should be conducting periodic reviews to make sure everything is still current. If you happen to be one of those who just never got around to it, it’s not too late to contact an estate planning attorney. In fact, considering how rapidly the current COVID crisis is changing, the sooner you can get your estate planning started, the better. Start with these five essential documents.
Health Care Proxy /Living Will
If you end up in the hospital and unable to communicate or make your own decisions about your healthcare, you can choose someone else to make those decisions on your behalf. Typically, healthcare providers will look towards a spouse or adult child in these situations. However, if you are single, if you and your partner are not married, your children are minors, or you don’t want your relatives making decisions for you, you’ll need a document called a Health Care Proxy This allows you to assign that authority to someone of your choosing. Otherwise, those decisions could be left in the hands of a court-appointed guardian. A Living Will also allows you to document your personal wishes for medical and end-of-life care, such as guidance on when to use on feeding tubes, ventilation and when to stop treatments.
Signing a HIPAA authorization form lets you control who will have access to your health information and who will not. If you can’t communicate with doctors yourself, having a HIPAA Authorization signed and ready to go gives healthcare providers permission to keep your loved ones informed of your care. Providers will also be able to release legally protected medical records to those named on the document.
Durable Power of Attorney
While a Health Care Proxy gives someone else permission to make medical decisions on your behalf, a Durable Power of Attorney does the same for your financial matters. You can use this document to select a trusted individual, referred to as your agent, to manage your finances if you are incapacitated in any way. This person will be allowed to access your bank accounts, pay your bills, and manage your assets. Without this document, your family may be forced to seek a court-appointed conservator to handle your finances.
Wills and Trusts
A will is often considered the backbone of even a simple estate plan. Your will is essentially a set of instructions on how you want your assets distributed upon your death. A living trust, on the other hand, can be an effective estate planning tool that allows others to help manage your assets while you are still alive. While a will goes through the process of probate, a living trust can help avoid the often-lengthy court procedure and the associated fees. An estate planning attorney can assess your situation and advise you on how a living trust may be beneficial to you and your loved ones.
During this coronavirus pandemic, you’ll probably find yourself with extra time on your hands due to a self-imposed quarantine or a “stay-at-home” order enacted in your area. This would be a great time to set up your estate plan, if you don’t have one, or review your current plan to see if it still meets your needs. Fortunately, most of the process can be done over the phone or via video conference with our firm. If you’d like to schedule a virtual meeting with our law firm, we are available to help you get started. Simply contact our office at (978) 825-0033 to schedule an appointment.