Estate Planning During the Coronavirus Pandemic: It’s Not Just About Your Will

“Dad, I have to ask: Are your affairs in order?”

My friend said the text message from his adult daughter caught him by surprise. He was feeling fine. In fact, he was in the process of taking his car in for a maintenance check at the dealership. It was early March, and the country was gearing up for shelter-in-place orders; his biggest preoccupation at that moment, he told me, was getting his vehicle taken care of before everything shut down. But the text from his daughter stopped him in his tracks. Taking a deep breath, he texted back, “Yes, they are. And for the record, I’m in good health, as far as I know.”

Even though several states are in the process of reopening their economies after two months of widespread quarantines and stay-at-home orders, it is still far from clear that the pandemic and its effects are easing. In such uncertain times, many are thinking about “what ifs” and reviewing the plans for disposition of their assets if the unthinkable were to happen.

But the need for estate planning goes beyond making sure your will is up to date — though that is certainly important. Even if you are not old enough to have adult children like my friend, you still should consider your need for other essential planning documents: healthcare and financial powers of attorney, advance directives, HIPAA waivers, and other vital records that can save your family time and emotional stress in the event of your incapacity or unavailability due to quarantine. Also, now is the perfect time to think about where your documents are stored and how your spouse or other family member can access them in a time of need.

A power of attorney — whether for healthcare or financial purposes — permits the designated person to make decisions and sign documents on your behalf if you are unable or incapable. Any competent adult in whom you have complete trust can serve as your attorney. Having your POAs available in a location known and accessible to your designee prevents unnecessary distress and conflict in the event you can’t make decisions or take action for yourself. As my friend’s daughter put it in her text message, “I’d rather not have to arm-wrestle doctors over decisions you wouldn’t want made should the worst happen.” A POA can guarantee that you never put a family member in that position.

An advance healthcare directive — sometimes called a living will — clarifies your wishes in the event of certain circumstances, including your wishes concerning type and duration of life support, end-of-life care, and other deeply sensitive matters. Having your wishes in writing can be an invaluable service to your family or other trusted persons at an intensely emotional time.

HIPAA waivers stipulate that your designees have full access to your medical records, allowing them to fully discuss and understand your medical situation in the event of your incapacity. While advance directives can serve much the same purpose, a HIPAA waiver guarantees that your trusted designee can get all the information needed to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.

While such considerations are more common for thriving retirees and persons of advanced age, more and more people of all ages are dealing with serious concerns in these uncertain times. Having these critical documents ready and available is one of the best and most caring things you can do for your loved ones. If you have questions about estate planning or anything else related to your financial wellbeing, please let me know; I’m here to help.

Stay Safe, Stay Hopeful!