Tips for Estate Planning in a Pandemic
We recently hosted a webinar sharing tips and guidelines for estate planning during this pandemic and New Normal. Given the popularity of the event, we are pleased to summarize a few of the takeaways.
Write An Ethical Will
An Ethical Will is not a binding legal document but instead a letter of instruction that helps you pass down some of your values and life lessons to the next generation, a discussion that we too often put off during our lifetimes. For example, within this document you can encourage your heirs to continue to donate to your favorite charity, without actually “putting the handcuffs on them” and making it mandatory. It can be a great way to encourage your family to continue the legacy you started, by continuing to support organizations that were important to you.
Organize Your Accounts and Passwords
Nearly everyone has an online presence, be it through their email accounts, social media platforms, or online shopping accounts. Oftentimes, we find that having access to these accounts would make things easier for a beneficiary charged with wrapping up the estate. This makes finding a way to capture at least your user name and password for these accounts the easiest way to greatly help your loved ones gain access to the information they need after you pass away. At minimum, you can write your passwords down and secure the information in a fireproof safe or secure them online in a password management system.
Plan for Incapacity – An Overlooked Area of Estate Planning
When most people think about estate planning, they focus on updating their Last Will or Trust to ensure that their assets are properly distributed after they pass away. However, planning for your own incapacity is equally, if not more, important given today’s environment with the pandemic. To do this, there are two core documents all individuals should have in place and review from time to time – a power of attorney (POA) for health care and a POA for property. These documents name agents who have the authority to make financial transactions or health care decisions on your behalf when you’re unable to do so.
Make sure to give your health care provider a copy of your POA for health care, now before they need it, and to also include the contact information for each agent on the actual form so they know how to reach them should an emergency situation arise.
An often overlooked suggestion is to make sure POAs for health care and property are in place for your children who have reached age 18. Without them you’ll have no power to immediately begin acting on their behalf or to access their medical records should something happen to them.
What’s Better – a Living Will or a Power of Attorney for Health Care?
They’re really two different documents.
A power of attorney for health care, similar to a power of attorney for property, allows you to name an agent who has the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf, up to and including the end-of-life decision.
A living will is meant to supplement the power of attorney for health care by allowing you to specify your end-of-life decisions for life sustaining treatment in writing, which then acts as a directive to your physician on what treatment you do, or don’t, want performed.
Take Advantage of Virtual Teams and Processes
Social distancing during the pandemic has forced professional services to shift to virtual solutions. If you’re unable to meet physically in person with your attorney or estate planning professional to update or implement your estate plan, there are creative solutions available (but solutions can vary by provider and state).
Attorneys are utilizing video conferencing technology, electronic document sharing, password-protected portals, and more. Some states are even lifting restrictions on notarizing. In Illinois, for example, there was a recent executive order that was initiated that allows for remote online notarization.
Don’t let the current social distancing environment prevent you from putting your plan in place or making updates.