In this unprecedented time of dealing with the COVID-19 coronavirus, the most important thing that you can do is take care of yourself and your loved ones. Along these lines, we strongly encourage you to, at a minimum, engage in some basic estate planning steps. This is even more imperative if you are over 60, elderly or have a compromised immune system. The current health risks posed should not be ignored and actions should be taken not out of fear, but rather to manage the risk. This is not a time to panic or be alarmist. Rather, it is an opportunity to take thoughtful action steps which will give you a feeling of control over these next several weeks as we collectively deal with the virus. Following is targeted outline of some steps you can take to ensure that financial and health care affairs are in order in the event your health and well-being are adversely affected during this time.
(Understandably in this uncertain and turbulent time, it may not be feasible to do all the intricate estate and tax planning you hope to accomplish, however, it is possible to take the first step to get some basic planning done to give you and your family peace of mind. This is a list of “bare bones” key estate planning documents you should have in place.)
Last Will and Testament
A Last Will and Testament is your written expression about how you wish your estate and assets be distributed upon your death and designates who should administer your estate. Some considerations for completing a Will include deciding on who should receive your estate upon your death and selecting a trusted person to serve as Executor of your estate. Make sure that the person you designate as Executor is willing and able to serve in that role. Further, consider the ages of your beneficiaries and whether or not they are financially responsible. If not, perhaps consider establishing a revocable trust. If you have a minor child or children, you should name a person to serve as Guardian in the event of your death.
General Durable Power of Attorney
In the event you become incapacitated or hospitalized, a power of attorney will authorize a trusted family member or advisor to take actions on your behalf. These actions include such as banking, dealing with investments, managing real estate, managing business affairs, paying taxes, paying bills and accessing a safety deposit box.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A health care power of attorney authorizes your agent to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated. Actions that can be taken by your health care agent include consenting to medical procedures, signing admission and discharge forms, employing or discharging medical professionals, arranging for transfer to other medical facilities, and receiving protected medical information. It is also a good idea to execute a HIPAA release form which will enable designated individuals to receive your protected health information.
A Living Will is a document that expresses whether or not, or to what extent, you wish to have any life sustaining treatments or measures taken should you be in a terminal state. The key here is that the Living Will expresses YOUR wishes and relieves the burden of making critical life sustaining decisions from your family, loved ones and medical personnel during this time of high stress.
In addition to having these key documents in place, you can take some additional steps to take control of your affairs. Be sure to review beneficiary designation forms for your 401(k) accounts, IRA’s, and insurance policies, to make sure they are consistent with your wishes. This is also an opportunity to add contingent beneficiaries as well (such as children or a trust). Many institutions allow you to complete beneficiary designation changes through on-line access so that you can do this easily and continue to stay safe and healthy without having to undertake unnecessary in person meetings.
Finally, it is a good idea to put together a summary or spreadsheet of your key advisors (attorney, CPA, investment advisor etc.), medical professionals, and the location of your key documents. You should also gather a list of your on-line accounts and passwords so that they can be accessed and managed appropriately in the event of your incapacitation.
We hope you and your family stay safe and healthy during this unsettling time. If you have questions about your estate planning contact Wealth & Estate Planning attorneys Kevin Lenhard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.736.7226, or Erika Apelis at email@example.com or 216.716.5637.