Take Your Power Back from COVID-19: Estate Planning Steps to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
Among the innovations of the late 20th and early 21st century is the 24-hour news cycle. Unfortunately, the amount of news available to us at all times of day means that when there is an ongoing health crisis like COVID-19, it can be hard to not feel worry and anxiety over one’s health. However, we can take certain concrete actions to alleviate our fears and regain some control.
First, and most importantly, we can observe all recommendations for protecting ourselves and those around us from COVID-19, including maintaining recommended distancing, masking, washing hands after leaving our bubbles, and being mindful of those who are more susceptible to illness.
Second, we can take the time provided to us to reflect on our own plans, rather than looking constantly outward for updates on case numbers, hospitalizations, and vaccination rates. Now is the perfect time to review your estate planning, while thoughts about health and well-being are top of mind for most people.
Rather than simply rereading documents, ask yourself specific questions before and as you review each document.
For every document:
- Does this still help you achieve your goals?
- Have your family dynamics changed since you last reviewed this document (births, deaths, marriages, divorces)?
- Is the financial information in this document still accurate and complete? Have you established any new accounts or forms of investment? Have you acquired any new assets?
- Would individuals named as executors, trustees, or personal representatives still be able to travel to serve their role locally if required, or would COVID-19 restrictions prevent that? (If so, consider designating a trusted person who lives locally.)
For your will and/or revocable living trust:
- Does the distribution of money and assets still reflect your wishes and goals?
- If you have named a guardian for a minor child, is that still the person you would like to take on that role? Is the minor child now a young adult?
- Is the individual (or individuals) listed as executor(s) or trustee(s) still able to serve in that role and still someone you trust to manage your affairs and assets?
- Are the beneficiaries listed still the preferred individuals? Is there anyone to add or remove (again consider births, deaths, marriages, and divorces)?
For your power(s) of attorney:
- Do these documents still name someone you trust to make financial or medical decisions for you when you cannot?
- Is your personal representative still the best person for the job, or is there another person who would be willing to serve and a better fit?
- Is the person named as your medical power of attorney (able to make medical decisions for you when you can’t), still available and able to serve? Are they still the best choice?
For your living will or advance healthcare directive:
- Do these documents still reflect your wishes as to end-of-life care and incapacitation?
- Have your wishes or beliefs changed as to life support or a persistent vegetative state?
- Does your family have a copy (or preferably, copies) of these documents?
For retirement accounts and life insurance policies:
- Have you updated your beneficiary designation recently? Be certain the named beneficiaries reflect your wishes as to who would receive the contents of accounts or proceeds of life insurance policies.
For your family’s reference and ease of contact:
- Do you have an up-to-date list of your financial accounts and important documents, including bank accounts, investment accounts, credit card accounts, title to your vehicle, title to your home, loan information, online accounts (social or financial), birth certificate, Social Security card, and passport?
- Have you provided an up-to-date list with names and contact information for your lawyer, financial advisor(s), and/or doctor(s) to your family?
By updating these documents, you can take specific actions to respond to the ongoing medical crisis as it relates to you personally and to care for the well-being of your family.
Whether you are younger or older, it’s never too early to start thinking about estate planning. If you need an estate plan or would like to talk to us about updating your estate plan, we are glad to assist. Our office has specific set procedures aimed to safeguard your health, and we are happy to meet with you by phone or videoconference if that is your preference. Please give our office a call at 609-580-1044 to take the first step towards an updated, tailored estate plan.