Estate Planning in a Pandemic
While the majority of the 60,000 U.S. deaths caused by the coronavirus have been individuals at higher risk due to age or pre-existing health conditions, we have all seen reports of younger, seemingly healthy men and women who have become very ill and in some cases, even succumbed to COVID-19.
Witnessing a new virus turn life upside down in such a short time demonstrates the importance of having a thorough, up-to-date estate plan. Considering how difficult – if not impossible – it could be to create estate documents during the isolation imposed on COVID hospital patients creates an even greater urgency. In addition to being isolated, seriously ill patients may be put into a medically induced coma, so they can be connected to a ventilator. Without an advanced care directive or a health care proxy, the patient won’t be able to influence their care.
If you have an advanced care directive, you may want to make sure ventilation is only ruled out in situations that appear hopeless – since thousands of COVID patients have been saved through intubating. A HIPAA Authorization should also be included in health care directives to ensure medical professionals can share information with a designated family member – crucial if a health system is overwhelmed and staff have little time to work out privacy issues.
In addition to health-related documents, even a basic estate plan should include a durable power of attorney (POA) to handle financial matters, a letter with instructions and final thoughts to loved ones and a simple will designating an executor and directing the distribution of assets. It’s important to ensure the will agrees with beneficiary designations on all accounts and wise to ask your financial institutions if they require their own POA form.
While working with an attorney is always the ideal, sites like FiveWishes.org, MyDirectives.com, LegalZoom.com and LawDepot.com can help you create a temporary solution in this crisis. But social distancing may make getting documents witnessed and notarized difficult. Some states allow online notarization using webcam. If yours doesn’t, you can probably sign documents inside your car with a notary witnessing through the windshield. Some states even accept unwitnessed, handwritten wills.
We can work with you, your attorney and your accountant to ensure your current estate plans take into consideration all the wills and won’ts you desire. Call our office to schedule a virtual appointment with us and your other trusted advisors.