The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be changing everything, including one’s priorities. With tens of thousands of Americans already dead from the disease, one priority that should move up for many individuals is estate planning. Top estate planning law firms say it is important to have your affairs in order if the worst happens, and it is also important to know that several elements of an estate plan will help should you become ill.
Here are the parts of your plan that will help in the event you become sick with COVID-19:
Health Care Power of Attorney (POA).
Sometimes this is called a “Living Will” or “Health Care Directive.” This document names one or more persons to make health care decisions on your behalf if you should become incapacitated. Be sure to think carefully about who you will appoint.
Often, the spouse is selected to be the decision maker in a Health Care POA. This seems only natural, but you should think about what would happen if both you and your spouse become ill due to COVID-19 – and there is fair probability this could happen.
Another potential problem with naming your spouse is there is always the possibility of divorce. If you do not keep your documents up-to-date, your ex-spouse could be named as your health care POA. Any divorce lawyer will note there are several downsides to this!
You might select an adult child as co-agent. This also seems natural, but if your child does not live nearby, it could present a problem in an emergency. The Wills lawyers recommend that you choose someone who could appear at your nearest hospital without much delay. In light of the pandemic, you should consider whether your agent is in a high-risk group for COVID-19 morbidity: age 60 or older or a person of any age with diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, or any chronic medical condition.
Whomever you select, naming more than one agent is advisable at a time like this when travel is restricted and more people are likely to be sick at the same time.
Financial Power of Attorney (POA) or attorney-in-fact. This is an agent who will make financial decisions for you in the event you are too sick to do so yourself. If you do not name a financial POA, your bills (including court-ordered child support) may not get paid and other important decisions will not be made until a court can name an agent for you. Costs and complications can escalate if several people think they should be named and others should be excluded.
It is best to select this person or persons yourself. In this time of uncertainty, it makes sense to choose two agents. This allows them to talk over any tough decisions, and it minimizes the possibility your funds would be misspent. However all the same considerations apply as with the health care POA: your spouse might become ill at the same time you do, and other individuals may not be the best choice if they are in the COVID-19 high risk category.
You might think of this as your financial welfare team who may be needed in the short-term to manage your affairs and make decisions until you recover. It is possible to become incapacitated for the long term, and then your affairs will require a different type of management. You may name one agent for short-term financial management and another individual for long-term incapacity.
A complicating factor in this age of social distancing is that states require witnesses to finalize documents, as well as notarization of signatures. Your estate planning attorney is likely to have a solution that will enable your plan to be finalized during the pandemic.