It’s fair to say that we are living in a new age of uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns over the pandemic have “led to a skyrocketing demand for wills, even among those who aren’t senior citizens,” according to an ABC News report.
No one wants to be ill or face the prospect of a potentially fatal viral infection. But there are concrete steps you can take to relieve some of the uncertainty and exert more control over your future. You should have an estate plan in place to designate who will make decisions about your medical care, finances or, potentially, the distribution of your assets, if you become incapacitated or cannot make those decisions. No matter your age, you need a plan.
Proper estate planning covers more than just drafting a final will and testament. The Brady Cobin Law Group can prepare a plan to make sure that your wishes are carried out if you become incapacitated by COVID-19 or some other condition. There are various legal instruments available to do this, the most efficient of which are powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions.
Brady Cobin Law Group is a small law firm in Raleigh, N.C., committed to helping families and individuals in the Raleigh and Cary area deal with the issues that arise when tackling estate and elder law issues and plan for an uncertain future. Having an estate plan set up means you and your loved ones have one less worry and more control if an unforeseen illness strikes. We can meet with you in Raleigh or Wake Forest or virtually for a discussion of your needs.
Health Care Power of Attorney
A health care power of attorney is one of the first legal instruments that everyone should have, given the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A power of attorney is a document that assigns authority to another person to act as your surrogate and make decisions on your behalf. Typically, they are drafted in case you become incapacitated. They can also be set up for specific periods, such as while you are overseas for military service.
A health care power of attorney empowers someone to make medical and health care decisions on your behalf while you are incapacitated and unable to make or communicate your own decisions. It also provides authority to access your medical information to make decisions, known as a HIPAA waiver. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that often requires intubation. Your ability to communicate may be extremely limited, so having a health care power of attorney is advisable.
You should grant a health care power of attorney to an individual who you trust to make decisions on your behalf about your medical care and life-support measures. You should discuss your wishes with that person and be sure that he or she is willing to serve as your health care power of attorney, if necessary.
Advance Medical Directive
An advance medical directive is a broader instrument that may include a health care power of attorney, a living will (a declaration of a desire for a natural death) and other end-of-life specifics. It is a witnessed legal document that provides written instructions about your health care wishes if you become incapacitated and are unable to speak for yourself. It can be drafted to specify whether you would want to be placed on a ventilator and any life-prolonging, extraordinary measures that you would not want doctors to perform.
An advance life care directive leaves no question as to your stated wishes, and no burden on anyone to decide for you.
Financial Power of Attorney
A financial power of attorney authorizes your agent to act on your behalf regarding financial issues, which may range from paying bills and dealing with insurance paperwork to trading stock or agreeing to the sale or purchase of a specific asset. The breadth or limitations on the agent’s authority and under what conditions authority is transferred are set forth by you in the power of attorney document.
The median length of hospitalization among survivors of the COVID-19 has been 10 to 13 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other illnesses or traumatic injuries could leave you incapacitated for longer.
While a spouse would likely be authorized to deal with financial issues connected to joint accounts and jointly owned property, without a power of attorney he or she could face some restrictions and would certainly be barred from managing property that belongs only to you.
Last Will and Testament
Having a will in place is important for everyone, not just for the elderly or people who are battling a COVID-19 infection
We especially advise people with minor age children to establish a will. A will allows you to ensure your children are taken care of financially in the event of your death. A will allows you to name guardians to care for your children, in the event you can’t. Without a will, the court could name guardians for your children and who determines how your assets are distributed.
As we’ve noted in a previous blog post, Americans have rushed to create wills online during the COVID-19 pandemic, but an online will can be a costly mistake. A will created by completing a form online can easily contain contradictory or unclear information that leads to it being contested.
A revocable living trust allows the trust’s “grantor” to name trustees with access to the trust’s assets, including the grantor and/or others. Its end-of-life value comes from the ability to name successor trustees, essentially an heir who takes control of the successor trust and its assets upon the grantor’s death. The transfer is automatic and avoids the time and expense of the court-supervised probate process that a will goes through.
Other types of trusts allow you to set aside and direct the distribution of money for loved ones who may be unable to handle finances on their own due to young age, disability or other reasons. Trusts are set up to make charitable gifts. Trusts can be designed for the belated transfer of funds under any situation or guidelines.
Estate Planning Puts an End to Uncertainty
Having an estate plan eases the burden on all involved in the event of an untimely incapacitation or death. There are multiple approaches, which allows our knowledgeable estate planning attorneys to tailor a plan to your specific needs and desires.
In this age of uncertainty, the Brady Cobin Law Group can relieve some of your anxiety by assisting you with specific documents or a full estate plan. We have more than 35 years of experience helping people across North Carolina make smart plans for the disposition of their estates, and we are here to help you today. Contact us now for a initial consultation.