COVID-19: Does Your Family Have A Plan
Everyone should have a durable health care power of attorney in place and a living will. The COVID-19 pandemic makes me anxious and when I’m anxious, I need to channel that anxiety into action. You probably do, too.
Your first action, of course, should be to follow the advice of public health professionals. Diligently wash your hands, self-isolate as long as we’re under restrictions, and stay at least 6 feet away from others if you have to go out. Doing so greatly reduces your risk of contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus, according to the epidemiologists.
But that doesn’t help you plan for unexpected outcomes and longer-term issues that affect your finances and your family’s well-being. My advice is to give some thought to the following:
- What would happen if you were unable to make or communicate financial and personal decisions for several weeks due to a critical illness?
- Are you the family’s bill-payer? Does anyone else know the log-in and password information for your on-line utility accounts, or your bank account, in case you’re incapacitated?
- If you became sick suddenly, and were away from your home for an extended period, who would take care of your child, pet, or mail? How would your bills get paid?
One positive action you can take while you’re working from home is to plan and prepare for your family’s future by completing a few key estate planning documents. Having your wishes documented and having a formal plan to manage family finances and everyday needs should be a crucial first step.
Face it, most of us put this off because we’d rather not think about dying. But for most of us, we are likely to be incapacitated for some period in our lives, and not necessarily as a result of COVID-19.
In most cases, the key documents are a durable health care power of attorney, a (property) power of attorney, and a will.
Everyone should have a durable health care power of attorney in place, and not just in response to the current pandemic. This document designates someone you trust to make medical decisions – in consultation with the treating physician – if you are unable to do so. A health care power of attorney is often combined with a “living will” that specifies what kinds of life-extending treatment you do and do not want. Whether you are married, have a significant other, or are single, if you want your wishes to be followed, you should have an attorney prepare a durable health care power of attorney for you.
Anyone with property should also have power of attorney in place to allow a designated person to pay your bills and do other time-sensitive transactions if you become incapacitated.
If you have a house, car, or a minor child, you should also have a will. This document not only specifies how you want your property divided, but also allows you to designate who you want to be guardian of your child.
Other legal documents also may be appropriate, depending on your particular circumstances. Consulting with an estate planning attorney will help you make the best choices.
Do you already have a will and durable health care power of attorney in place? Good for you, but don’t rest on your laurels. Use the time you have now to review those documents. In particular, ask these kinds of questions:
- Does your will still accurately state your wishes?
- Have your children grown up since you last looked at your will?
- Is the person you chose as guardian for your child still in a position to take on that responsibility now?
- If your child is 18 or older, a guardian is not necessary (in most situations). But is he or she ready for the responsibility of an inheritance?
- If you have an IRA, 401(k), or life insurance policy, who is the named beneficiary and are those designations still appropriate?
- Do your loved ones know how to access your original will and other important documents if you are incapacitated?
Social upheavals like the coronavirus pandemic trigger anxiety, but it doesn’t have to paralyze you. Channel your anxiety into something positive: protect your family and other loved ones by planning for your future and ensuring your wishes are followed.
Attorney Melissa De Groff is available to consult with you remotely to help you plan for your family’s future. You can reach Melissa at (317) 777-7453 or firstname.lastname@example.org. And please practice social distancing and stay safe until this crisis passes.
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