The world has changed completely in such a short time due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). The new norm of shelter in place, social distancing and personal protective gear as recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) are all helping flatten the curve and allow the health care system to respond better to this novel disease.
It may feel like so much is beyond our control. Yet, there are many ways you can be in control and make your wishes known to protect you and your family in the event of an unexpected illness or death. National Legal Solutions Center has a system to answer your questions and get your documents set up virtually and legally.
Here are some things you can do to secure your assets and make your wishes known which may help you feel a little more in control in these uncertain times.
1. Be sure you have a Comprehensive Estate Plan: You do not need to be ‘rich” to have an “estate.” If you own a home, car, a bank account and/or other valuable items that will be left behind, you have an “estate,” A good plan includes:
Revocable Living Trust
Last Will and Testament
Power of Attorney for “Finance” (general)
Power of Attorney for “Health Care”
Living Will Declaration
Quit-Claim deed for In-state property
Proper Funding of the Estate
2. Create a Health Care Power of Attorney: A Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPA) is a legal document which can also be known as an “Advance Directive,” “Patient Advocate Designation” or “Health Care Directive.” With a Health Care Power of Attorney, you can designate someone to make health care decisions and advocate for you if you become incapacitated. Directions regarding end of life decisions and other decisions about your care and treatment would be included. This is being required upon hospital admission in many states, but if you are unconscious, your nearest family member(s) is appointed. Without knowing your wishes, they make the decisions for you, not to mention, if you have more than one relative involved (such as children), it could cause opposition among your loved ones. Make sure every adult in your family has a HCPA in place. If you have adult children, talk to them about your wishes for yourself and the importance of their wishes being spelled out in their own HCPA. Keep in mind, once a child turns 18, parents no longer have rights to make medical decisions for them.
3. Your HIPAA Authorization: This is another document required for treatment. If you are unconscious, you cannot give permission to share medical information to appointed advocates. HCPA should always include a HIPAA Authorization which follows the requirements Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to authorize your designated patient advocate to receive information about your health condition and status.
4. Durable Power of Attorney Finances: A Durable Power of Attorney for Finances (DPA) is a legal document where you designate an Agent to access your assets and make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and cannot do it yourself. A DPA’s authorization can be as broad or as narrow as you like. The broader the scope, the more flexibility the Agent has to properly deal with your assets, make financial, legal or tax decisions and handle other items, like paying bills.
5. Wills or Trusts?: This is a big question among our clients. Depending on your situation, a Will could be fine. But, to avoid probate depleting your assets, a Trust, especially a Revocable Trust, is best for most people. A Revocable Trust allows you to put assets into it, remove as you like and designate the trust to beneficiaries without needing to be transferred through a probate process. Unlike a will, a living trust also covers you while you are still alive.
6. Be Sure You Have Guardian Designations: If you have minor children, then having guardians designated is critical. Otherwise, the courts will decide for you if you become incapacitated or die, including placing in foster care while a decision is being made.
7. Delegation of Parental Authority: This is not the same as guardian designation. This allows others who are currently caring for your children to make emergency decisions. This pandemic has separated parents and their minor children due to travel restrictions, sheltering in place, self-quarantine protocol or other circumstances. A Delegation of Parental Authority is a temporary measure that does not take the place of a guardian designation (that person would act only if both parents are deceased, incapacitated or otherwise unable to act). Parental duties can be given for up to 6 months at a time. Parents remain the ultimate decision makers and can revoke the designation at any time.
8. Be sure existing Wills, Trusts and Retirement Beneficiaries are current: Life insurance, annuities and retirement plans pass according to their beneficiary designations, regardless of what your Will or Trust provides. It is important to coordinate the beneficiary designations with the rest of your plan. List your assets and ask these questions: Are your accounts set up to go to the right person? Is your Trust up to date with the latest assets funded to it and/or all beneficiaries current? Is your Trust funded properly?
We are here to help. The COVID-19 pandemic does not discriminate—everyone is at risk. It can feel like you are alone but we are all in this together and all experiencing similar issues. As the battle to heal and flatten the curve goes on, we are finding new ways to adapt. There is an overwhelming amount of news, articles, medical updates, state and federal government orders and relief bills. You do not have to process all of this information on your own. This is what we do, we help families and individuals figure out what is best for them and make their wishes known, legally.