Estate planning attorneys have a saying: “It’s never too soon to make an estate plan, but soon, it could be too late.” That’s not just a clever slogan used to generate business, and unfortunately, the emergence of a novel coronavirus has demonstrated the truth of this expression.
The good news is that the great majority of people who contract this virus do recover (even if they must suffer some misery in the meantime). The bad news, which has been splashed across TVs, radios, newspapers, and the internet, is that some people don’t. The greatest death toll has been among the elderly, but no age group is immune.
This isn’t said to frighten you, but to empower you. If you are reading this right now, and your estate plan doesn’t fully address your needs, this is your opportunity to take steps to ensure that it does. We hope that the coronavirus does not have a serious impact on you or your family. But even if it doesn’t, you will benefit from taking these estate planning measures:
If you have an estate plan, you already have a will, a revocable living trust, or both. These are the building blocks of any estate plan, designed to pass your assets to the recipients of your choice after your death. For a very modest estate, a will may be sufficient. However, a trust has the advantage of passing these assets to your loved ones seamlessly without the need for probate. If you don’t have a living trust, you should discuss the advantages with an estate planning attorney
If you don’t have a will or a trust, the coronavirus pandemic should serve as a sharp reminder to get one as soon as possible. Every day, we are confronted with evidence that life can change dramatically in a heartbeat.
In your will, you can name a guardian for your minor children. It is wise to name an alternate guardian, in case your original choice isn’t able to serve. Even if your first choice guardian is young, there might be a number of reasons they are unable to accept the responsibility when you need them to.
If you were to suffer a sudden, serious illness, who could manage your financial matters? Who could make medical decisions on your behalf? If you have durable financial and medical powers of attorney in place, you can answer this question with confidence.
“Durable” means that the power you grant an agent to act on your behalf survives continues even after you become legally incapacitated. That’s especially important in these uncertain times, but whether your incapacity comes on slowly, as with dementia, or rapidly, as with coronavirus, it’s important to have these documents in place. Otherwise, your family would need to go to court to get the right to make decisions and take actions on your behalf. These days, getting access to courts may be much more difficult than it usually is. Having durable powers of attorney in place will allow your loved ones to bypass that process when they’re already under enough stress.
It is important to grant a loved one a medical power of attorney so that they can make health care decisions for you. But in a time of extreme pressure, will they know what decision to make? You may think that you and your family member are “on the same page,” but when actually faced with a decision about your end-of-life care, a family member may struggle and even agonize about what your wishes really are.
A living will provides your agent under a health care power of attorney with tangible guidance as to what measures you would, and would not, want used to prolong your life in the event you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious.
Remember: updating your estate plan in these uncertain times doesn’t mean you should expect the worst to happen. Our hope is that, by the time you read this, the situation is improved from what it was as this post is being written. But no matter what happens with the coronavirus, it has thrown a spotlight on the need to be prepared for the unforeseen. Even if these measures in your estate plan don’t need to come into play for decades, you’ll rest easier knowing they’re in place. And peace of mind, especially in these turbulent times, is something worth having. Contact your estate planning attorney to schedule a remote consultation for the estate plan updates you need. Gudorf Law Group is now offering a free, no-obligation one-hour video conference for every client who completes a Client Organizer.