News about the coronavirus is everywhere, and we have all been affected by it in some way even if we are currently completely healthy. Although it may seem as though circumstances are spinning beyond our control, we are not powerless. There are steps we can take to protect ourselves and our families, both physically and financially.
First, we can exercise caution in our interactions with others: maintaining the recommended distance; washing our hands; keeping things sanitized. COVID-19 is a dangerous virus for some people, but a large majority of people have not been infected, and most of those who have become ill are recovering fully.
Second, pull out your estate planning documents and take a close look to verify they still reflect your wishes and are able to accomplish your goals. As you review your documents, ask yourself a few important questions:
Would your last will and testament and/or revocable living trust still achieve your goals? In your will you have specified how you want your money and property distributed to the beneficiaries you have chosen. If you have minor children, you probably named a guardian in your will to care for them if you cannot. Perhaps you even specified a caretaker for your pet. In your revocable living trust you likely named a trusted person to be your co-trustee or successor trustee to manage the money and property held in the trust even during your lifetime if you are unable to do it yourself. You undoubtedly specified how the money and property in the trust should be distributed to your named beneficiaries once you pass away.
Life is constantly changing. It is important to review not only the people you have named as beneficiaries, but also to consider whether the people you named to act as your executor or trustee are still your top choices. Even if you are still comfortable with your previous choices, are the individuals you selected currently available to act in those roles? Is the person you chose to be the guardian of your children still available and willing to care for them? If several years have passed since you drafted your documents, has your executor or trustee moved away? Is he/she still willing and able to serve? In the current crisis, the person you have selected may be unavailable due to illness, quarantine, or a stay-at-home order. If the person lives out of state, he or she may be subject to travel restrictions.
Are you still comfortable with the people you have named to be your agents under your medical and financial powers of attorney? In your medical power of attorney, you named a person you trust to make medical decisions for you if you are too ill or unable to speak for yourself. In your durable financial power of attorney, you designated an individual to make financial and property decisions for you should you become unable to manage your own affairs. Because of the current prevalence of stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and self-quarantines, make sure the person you have chosen is currently available to act as your agent. Consider designating individuals you trust but who also live close by to act in these roles. Consider also if you have young adult children who might need medical and financial powers of attorney.
Does your living will or advance directive, the legal document that spells out your wishes concerning end-of-life care, still accurately reflect your wishes? For example, would you want to receive life support if you are in a persistent vegetative state or have a terminal condition? Make sure family members have a copy of it or know where it can easily be found. They should not have to guess about what you would want if you become very ill and are unable to communicate your wishes.
Do you need to modify or update the beneficiary designations of your retirement accounts and insurance policies? If you have already named beneficiaries, now is the time to make any changes that are necessary to reflect your current wishes.
Do you have an up to date list of legal, financial, and medical professionals who have performed or are still performing services for you? The list should include their contact information so your family can easily reach them in the event their help is needed. In addition, ensure HIPAA authorizations are in place with medical professionals enabling your family members to obtain needed information.
Do you have a current list of all your accounts and important documents? The list should include bank and investment accounts, titles to vehicles and homes, credit card accounts or loans, digital accounts (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and passwords, Social Security cards, passports, and birth certificates, which may be needed to manage your property if you become ill, or to settle your estate if you pass away.
If you have these documents in place, you are well prepared! If your estate plan needs updating or if you don’t have an estate plan, this is something you can do today to prepare for the futur