The COVID-19 pandemic caused many of us to take a step back and ask a very important question - “are we truly prepared for the worst?” In a harsh and direct way, the COVID-19 crisis made it clear that you can no longer procrastinate and put off creating an estate plan for another day. As we've witnessed, life is precious, and we are only guaranteed today. Now is the time to time to create an estate plan.
As the coronavirus COVID-19 spread across the United States like wildfire, many people were forced to confront serious questions like:
- If I get infected with COVID-19 and pass away, who will take care of my kids?
- How will my finances be managed, including my assets and outstanding debts?
- If I am placed into a medically induced coma (which is common for someone struggling with the respiratory impact associated with COVID-19), who will be responsible for making medical and financial decisions on my behalf?
If you do not have an answer to the questions listed above, you need to evaluate your current estate plan, or invest the time to create an estate plan.
If you have embraced the duty to plan, do not go halfway with it. Many Americans decided during the crisis to create an estate plan, which is great. Unfortunately, many resorted to cookie-cutter, do-it-yourself online wills.
There are specific estate planning documents designed to address issues related to managing finances, distributing assets, making important health care decisions in the event of incapacitation, the care of minor children, etc.
If you have been putting off creating an estate plan, this moment in history should be a clarion call reminding you that you have a duty to plan your estate. You have a duty to yourself, a duty to your family, a duty to your loved ones and a duty to the people who care for you to get your affairs in order by completing an estate plan.
If you have embraced the duty to plan, do not go halfway with it. According to an article published on CNBC.com, many Americans have decided during this time of crisis to create an estate plan, which is great. Unfortunately, they are resorting to cookie-cutter, do-it-yourself online wills. These online estate plans can be downright dangerous for a variety of reasons, including the serious risk that they may not even be legally valid and could be deemed void if challenged in court.
Investing in a proper estate plan means you take the time consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. You take the time to consider creating a living trust, which gives you control over your hard-earned assets, can reduce the risk of unintended consequences or family discord and avoids enables you to circumvent probate.
Investing in a proper estate plan means you taking the time designate the beneficiaries to your estate.
Investing in your estate plan means taking the time to review your financial power of attorney, which is particularly important in this time of crisis if you own a business. You also need to take the time to review your health care power of attorney. This is a legal document enabling you to name a trusted individual who is empowered to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated.
If you are ready to begin planning your estate, here are some helpful tips on what documents need to be created or compiled to ensure your affairs are in order.
- Make sure your financial documents are current, and ensure your health care power of attorney, designated beneficiaries, etc., reflect your wishes.
While reviewing your estate planning documents, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are the named executors (in your will) and/or trustees (in your trust), still able or willing to serve in their designated roles?
- Are the named executors (in your will) and/or trustees suitable and legally able to serve in their designated roles?
- Do the provisions of your will and trusts direct that your property pass to the individuals, nonprofits, etc., reflect your wishes?
- Do you know where the legal documents for your original will and trusts are located?
- Have you compiled a list of all of your digital assets (e.g., Apple iTunes account, Amazon Prime account, etc.) and social media accounts? Additionally, have you created a spreadsheet with your usernames and passwords to these accounts.
- If you have an estate plan and are engaged in a review process, ask yourself - have there been any significant events (e.g., change in marital status, birth of a new child, death in the family, change in residence, major purchase of property or another asset, etc.) since you last executed your estate plan?
- It's especially important during this critical time to make sure your advance directives are current, reflect your wishes and that copies are readily available. For context, your advance directives (health care proxy, living will and powers of attorney) authorize your agents to make important medical and financial decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so and will make decisions based on your stated preferences and wishes. In addition, make sure you take the time to discuss your medical treatment preferences with your agents so that, if necessary, they are prepared to make those decisions (for example, do you want to remain in a persistent vegetative state?).