Five Estate Planning Essentials to Consider During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The cases of COVID-19 in America keep growing exponentially, and it has many of us panicked and even planning for every grim scenario.

As an estate planning attorney, I’ve gotten many calls and emails with questions on what to do and how to put a plan in place for this type of pandemic.

I want to cover five tools that I think are essential for your estate planning, not just during a crisis such as we’re facing now, but any time. I believe every adult should have an estate plan in place, and periodically review said plans to make sure everything stays up to date.

Are you one of those people who just haven’t gotten around to it? It’s not too late to contact an estate planning attorney and start. And really, the sooner, the better.

The first essential document I want to talk about is your healthcare directive. What if you end up in the hospital, unable to communicate? You can use this document to choose who would represent you and your wishes during such an event.

While healthcare providers often look to a spouse or adult child in these situations, if you have a specific person in mind, are single, or partnered without marriage, you’ll need a healthcare power of attorney. If you do not have this in place the court will appoint a guardian. To document your wishes for medical and end-of-life care (feeding tubes, ventilation, when to stop treatments) you fill out a comprehensive healthcare directive.

Next, you’ll need a signed HIPAA authorization form, where you can choose who can access your medical information. That way if you are incapacitated, doctors can still keep your loved ones informed.

You’ll also need a durable Power of Attorney to grant someone the ability to make financial decisions on your behalf should you be unable. With this document, your agent can access your bank accounts, pay your bills, and generally manage your assets. If you do not a POA, the courts will need to appoint someone who can act on your behalf until you recover.

Your will is often considered the backbone of your estate plan. This document instructs others on how you want your assets distributed after you pass away. But don’t overlook the importance of a living trust, which may be superior in that your trustee will have the ability to manage your assets while you’re still alive, and assets within the trust often avoid probate court and fees when you’re gone. Make sure to work with an experienced estate planning attorney to figure out how and when a living trust may be beneficial in your plan.

Some of us have found ourselves with extra time on our hands with self-imposed quarantine and “stay-at-home” orders being enacted across the country. Seize the opportunity to set up or review your estate plan: most of the process can be done through phone calls and virtual meetings. Contact our office at 724-841-1393 to schedule an appointment if you need assistance.