News about the coronavirus is everywhere. And even if we are completely healthy, all of us have been affected by the situation in some way. Although it may seem as though circumstances are spinning beyond our control, we are not powerless. There are some COVID-19 estate planning steps we can take to protect ourselves and our families, both physically and financially.
Step 1: Stay Safe
The first, and perhaps most important, step is to exercise caution in our interactions with others to ensure their health as well as our own. This includes taking care to stay the recommended distance away from others, especially those who are more susceptible to illness. Washing our hands is key to avoid spreading germs.
COVID-19 is a dangerous virus for some people, but the good news is that a large majority of people have not been infected. And most of those who have become ill are recovering fully.
Step 2: Review Your Estate Plan
Constant news reports about this year's novel coronavirus have brought our wellbeing and that of our families into a sharper focus. This pandemic has highlighted the importance of planning for the unexpected. A second concrete step you can take to ensure the welfare of your family is to review your COVID-19 estate planning documents. Take a close look to verify that they still reflect your wishes and are able to accomplish your goals.
As you review your documents, ask yourself a few important questions:
Would your last will and testament and/or revocable living trust still achieve your goals?
In your will, you have specified how you want your money and property distributed to the beneficiaries you have chosen. In addition, if you have children, you probably named a guardian in your will to care for them. Perhaps you even specified a caretaker for your pet.
In your revocable living trust, you likely named a trusted person to be your co-trustee or successor trustee. This person will step in to manage the money and property held in the trust if you are unable to do it yourself. In addition, you specified how the money and property in the trust should be distributed to beneficiaries when you die.
Life is constantly changing. Now, as you consider your COVID-19 estate planning, it is important to review not only the people you have named as beneficiaries, but also whether the people you named to act as your executor or trustee are still your top choices. Even if you are still comfortable with your previous choices, are the individuals you selected currently available to act in those roles? Is the person you chose to be the guardian of your children still available and willing to care for them?
If several years have passed since you drafted your documents, your executor or trustee may have moved away or may otherwise be unwilling or unable to serve. In the current crisis, the person you have selected may be unavailable due to illness, quarantine, or a stay-at-home order, and if he or she lives out of state, may be subject to travel restrictions.
Are you still comfortable with the people you have named to be your agents under your medical and financial powers of attorney?
In your medical power of attorney, you named a person you trust to make medical decisions for you if you are too ill or unable to speak for yourself. In your durable financial power of attorney, you designated an individual to make financial and property decisions for you should you become unable to manage your own affairs.
Because of the prevalence of stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and self-quarantines, make sure the person you have chosen is currently available to act as your agent. Consider designating individuals you trust but who also live close by to act in these roles. [Consider also if you have young adult children who might need medical and financial powers of attorney.]
Does your living will or advance directive still accurately reflect your wishes?
The legal document that spells out your wishes concerning end-of-life care is crucial to have updated. Make sure family members have a copy of it or know where it can easily be found to ensure that they will not have to guess about what you would want if you become very ill and are unable to communicate your wishes.
Do you need to modify or update the beneficiary designations of your retirement accounts and insurance policies?
If you have already named beneficiaries, now is the time to make any changes that are necessary to reflect your current wishes.
Do you have a list of legal, financial, and medical professionals who have performed or are still performing services for you? If you do, is this list up to date?
The list should include contact information so your family can easily reach them in the event their help is needed if you become ill or pass away. In addition, ensure HIPAA authorizations are in place with medical professionals so your family members are able to obtain needed information.
Do you have a current list of all your accounts and important documents?
The list should include bank and investment accounts, titles to vehicles and homes, credit card accounts or loans, digital accounts (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and passwords, Social Security cards, passports, and birth certificates. All of these may be needed to manage your property if you become ill, or to settle your estate if you pass away.
Is Your COVID-19 Estate Planning Ready?
If you have all of these documents in place, you are well prepared! If your estate plan needs updating or if you don't have an estate plan, this is something you can do today to prepare for the future. We have put procedures in place aimed at safeguarding your health during the current health crisis and are happy to meet with you over the phone or via a videoconference. Our primary goal is to help you have peace of mind about the future—regardless of the circumstances.
Eventually, this crisis will be over (and that day can't come too soon!). Right now, though, know that we are still here for you. Please give us a call to take action to ensure the best COVID-19 estate planning is in place to provide for your care and for your family.