Estate planning is important for everyone, regardless of your financial circumstances. For example, you could be worth very little and still need someone to make health care decisions for you and manage your bank account in the event you became incapacitated. Without proper planning, even these simple matters could require a court proceeding.
Although estate planning is always important, COVID-19 presents new challenges and circumstances. Here is list of the essential documents you should have in place now, or as soon as possible:
- A Will. This document appoints the executor of your estate upon your death, and also designates how your estate will be distributed. Keep in mind, however, that designations such as payable-on-death (POD) on bank accounts or real estate, joint ownership of accounts and direct beneficiaries named on life insurance policies and retirement accounts will override the provisions of your Will. You should review your Will, along with ownership and beneficiary designations for all of your assets, now so you won’t need to worry about these matters should you become ill. Updating these designations will often require forms, notaries and/or witnesses, which can be difficult to obtain in the event you are diagnosed with, or display any symptoms of, COVID-19
- A Power of Attorney for Finances (also known as a Durable Power of Attorney). This document appoints an agent who is authorized to manage your financial affairs for you, primarily in the event you are unable to do so for yourself. This document can become effective in one of three primary ways, depending on the language used within the document: 1) You are mentally incapacitated as determined by two physicians, 2) Immediately upon signing the document, or 3) Upon signing a certificate at a later time activating your power of attorney. It is important to make sure this document is in place now, so that in the event you are diagnosed with, or display any symptoms of, COVID-19, you have already designated someone who can act on your behalf.
- A Power of Attorney for Health Care. This document appoints an agent who is authorized to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so for yourself. This document can become effective, depending on the language used within the document, either in the event you are mentally incapacitated as determined by two physicians or immediately upon signing the document. Creating a power of attorney for health care that is effective immediately, designating your spouse are another close family member as agent, can provide some flexibility with regard to treatment decisions in the event you are unable to communicate well during intubation or while other medical procedures or treatments are in effect. You may also wish to write down your desires regarding end-of-life care through a living will and/or an optional addendum to your power of attorney for health care.
- A HIPAA Authorization. This document designates an individual or individuals who are authorized to obtain your medical information, including basic information such as whether you have been admitted to a facility, your room number and your condition. Although most health care facilities ask you to sign a HIPAA authorization, the provided form will only apply to a specific institution or network and will expire annually. Signing a HIPAA authorization designating multiple individuals, that will apply to any institution in the country, and that won’t expire until after your death can ensure that trusted family members will have access to this important information in the event you become ill.
Ensuring your estate plan is up-to-date will provide peace of mind for you, and can also make a stressful situation as easy as possible under the circumstances for your loved ones.