Now is the Time to Create or Review Your Estate Plan
With the nation’s focus shifted to the danger posed by COVID-19 and developments unfolding almost by the minute, now is an important time to make sure you have estate planning documents in place – or that your documents are updated if you already have them in place.
Although everyone’s needs are different, there are a few basic documents that everyone over the age of eighteen should have. An existing estate plan will help you lay out your wishes for what should be done and who should manage decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated and unable to make those decisions on your own.
Medical Power of Attorney. A Medical Power of Attorney is a document in which you appoint one or more people to be able to make healthcare decisions for you if you become incapacitated and cannot make healthcare decisions for yourself. These decisions include issues such as what your course of treatment should be, whether you need to be placed in a long-term care facility, and who your caregivers should be should you need them.
Living Will. Sometimes included in the same document as the Medical Power of Attorney, a Living Will is a document in which you can lay out your wishes for end-of-life care. If a doctor says that you are in a terminal state with no hope of recovery, would you want to be kept alive artificially through ventilators, respirators, and/or feeding tubes? Some people would not want to be kept alive artificially, while others may want to wait a specific time period (say, seven days) before agreeing to be taken off of life support. In any event, without expressing these wishes in writing, your family will not have any guidance from you as to how to proceed in the extremely unfortunate event that your health situation warrants such a decision. This lack of direction can lead to extreme guilt on behalf of the decision maker as well as family arguments and tension during an already difficult time.
Financial Power of Attorney. A Financial Power of attorney is a document in which you appoint one or more people to manage your finances and make financial decisions for you should you become incapacitated and unable to manage your own finances. This document covers a variety of matters, including paying bills, applying for public benefits, and managing investments, to name a few. This document can either be made effective immediately, so that your family members can begin managing your finances if they notice a problem, or it can be written so that it is only effective if you are certified to be incapacitated by a medical professional.
HIPAA Release. In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which implemented rules regarding who could receive medical information. A HIPAA release is a document in which you can list people who can access your medical information if the situation warrants it.
Last Will and Testament or Trust. A Will or Trust covers how your assets are to be distributed when you pass away, as well as who you would want managing those assets after you are gone. An experienced estate planning attorney will advise you as to the type of plan that is best for your specific circumstances.
While the people you list on these documents can be friend, family, or even corporations, typically we recommend that you name at least one primary Agent and one Successor Agent, so that you will be covered if something should happen to your primary Agent.
In times of uncertainty like these, it can be reassuring to be certain about the fact that, if you are hospitalized or become incapacitated, your wishes will be met and the people you would want carrying out your wishes will have the authority to do so. Without these documents in place, it may be necessary for your loved ones to go to court and be appointed your guardian and conservator. Because of court closures and related issues, that is a process that could take several months. Having a power of attorney or medical directive in place ensures that your wishes are in effect without forcing your family to go through the expense, time, and stress of a court hearing.
If you already have these documents in place, now is the time to take them out and review them to make sure they still reflect your wishes and your family circumstances. Typically, we recommend that our clients review their documents every three to five years, or when there is a major change in family circumstances or finances. It is important that you take a look at your documents to make sure they still line up with what your wishes would be today, if you became incapacitated or passed away.
Hook Law Center remains open to meet with clients. If you prefer to meet over the phone or through an online video conference, we can do that as well. The only portion of our meetings that requires an in-person visit is your document signing. If you would like to make sure your affairs are in order, please call our office as soon as possible to schedule an appointment.
Ask Kit Kat: Bare Bear
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about Eve, the wild bear, who was rescued when she was completely devoid of fur and had lacerations to her skin?
Kit Kat: Well, what happened to Eve, shouldn’t happen to any living creature. For whatever reason, Eve, a black bear, was found as a young bear (older than a cub, but not full grown) in Placer County, California. At the time, she had absolutely no fur due to a severe case of sarcoptic mange. On top of that, her condition was made worse by her incessant scratching, to the point where she had actual lacerations to her skin. She was pitiful! After two years of treatment by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Eve was somewhat rehabilitated. However, she would never be able to return to the wild. Some of her fur had grown back in patches, but there was not enough fur on her body to keep her warm in the wild. She had permanent damage to her hair follicles which were covered with scar tissue from the disease and her subsequent scratching.
The decision was made to move her permanently to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas. She is thriving there. She has a covered den and yard, and an acre of woods in which to roam. Gradually, Eve is being socialized. Instead of hiding medication in her food, they can now give it to her while she is sitting down. She also is motivated by time to play with objects and toys. At first, they gave her natural objects like pine cones and tree branches to play with. Now, she enjoys playing with balls, piῆatas, and food hidden in objects. Sometimes, she even prefers objects to food, when given the choice. This is a tremendous success story, and we have those involved in animal rehabilitation to thank! (Kelly L. Williams, “The bear who came for Christmas,” All Animals, March/April/May 2020, p.8 & 9)