The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced uncertainty and anxiety into many peoples’ lives. For some, it has also brought into focus their mortality. While we hope that the pandemic is controlled quickly, current times are unpredictable. If you haven’t already, it’s a good time to think about ensuring that your financial affairs are in order and that you have an estate plan in place.
Give the rapid spread of the virus, it’s important to update your estate plan as soon as possible.
Documents to Update
There are several key documents that you should review to see if you need to make any changes in light of the current pandemic. These include:
Power of Attorney: A power of attorney provides the legal authority to assign an agent authorized to carry on your financial affairs in the event that you become incapacitated. These individuals have the authority to handle financial transactions – including paying bills, writing checks, making deposits, selling or purchasing assets, and completing tax returns – on your behalf. Without this document, there is no other person who could legally conduct these financial transactions; family members would have to request that the probate court identify someone to take over these duties. Since this process can be lengthy and emotionally-taxing, it’s always better to have a power of attorney in place before it becomes necessary. While any adult can serve as your designated power of attorney agent, you should ensure that you choose someone who is trustworthy and responsible.
Healthcare Proxy/Healthcare Durable Power of Attorney: A durable power of attorney for healthcare, or health care proxy, allows you to name someone to make healthcare decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated but still alive. This role can be incredibly difficult for loved ones to fill, so it’s crucial that you discuss your wishes with the individual beforehand, so that they have a good idea of what you are asking of them before they agree to it.
Last Will and Testament: In California, it is strongly encouraged that individuals develop a living trust to distribute asssets in order to avoid having to go through probated court. However, if you have minor children, you can also appoint guardians for them through the use of a last will and testament. If this document is necessary, you will also have to appoint an executor who can ensure that the terms of the will are met as you intended them to be. Without a will in place to name a legal guardian, your family may go through long and drawn out court proceedings . You can spare your loved ones from going through this process by updating your last will and testament to ensure that it reflects your current wishes for minor children.
Living Trust (aka Revocable Trust or Revocable Living Trust: A revocable trust or a revocable living trust is recommended to handle the transfer of one’s assets rather than a will. Having a living trust in place ensures that you will not need to go through probate court. It is generally much less expensive and far less time consuming to administer. You can also make decisions about how and when you would like to terminate life-saving effors and discuss your wishes related to organ donation.
HIPAA Authorization: The Health Insurance Affordability Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) put in place federal regulations related to privacy when obtaining healthcare. Authorization to release these records is required for you to name people that can have access to your medical records. Essentially, this document allows you to decide who the treating clinicians can discuss your medical treatment with in the event that you are hospitalized.
Assets, Accounts, and Insurance Policies: When you are updating your other estate plan documents, it’s worth taking a little time to update your account information, insurance policy information, and your inventory of assets, including digital assets and their related passwords. This action will make it much easier for your executor to carry out their duties and your family members to access any accounts or assets they may need to.
In addition to updating all of your documents and information, it’s also a good time to convey information to other family members. These conversations can help them to better understand your final wishes for a funeral or burial arrangement, as well as address any other items, such as who may be available to care for any pets left behind.
While nobody wants to think of their own mortality, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many people to do just that. There are many things that are currently out of our control. However, you can control what happens in the event of an untimely death. The best way to ensure that things go as you wish is to make sure that you have the right legal documentation in place through an updated estate plan.