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Is Your Estate Plan COVID-19 Ready?

We often advise clients that they should review their estate planning documents (Wills, Trusts, Advance Medical Directives, General Durable Powers of Attorney, Beneficiary Designations) every few years or when changes in their family, financial and/or medical circumstances occur.  In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is extremely important to not only make sure that you have these critical documents in place, but also to review them to make sure they would work for you, if you or your loved one were to become ill from this virus.  This article will address the importance of having these documents in place and the key provisions to look for.

Financial Power of Attorney

Having a Power of Attorney in place now may be particularly important so that an agent can transact business for you if you fall ill, but it may also be helpful for you to simply avoid having to go to the bank or other business location if you are in a high-risk group.  Have you named an agent who lives far away?  If so, you may want to consider naming someone local due to travel restrictions and/or your agent simply not being comfortable to travel during this time.

Many Powers of Attorney are “springing,” meaning they become effective only when you are incapacitated and can no longer manage your affairs.  This often requires at least one physician to put something in writing to this effect.  You should consider whether these “speed bumps” are appropriate in the current environment.  Physicians working with COVID-19 patients are undoubtedly overwhelmed and may not have the ability to summarize your condition in writing immediately. 

You should also look for whether your Power of Attorney authorizes your agent to communicate decisions via email, electronically signed documents, and even video conferencing.  Your document should also include language that holds the bank and other third parties harmless for relying on such electronic communications to encourage them to be more likely to accept those actions of your agent.

Living Wills/DNR’s

Unfortunately, many patients with COVID-19 are being intubated in an effort to help them survive a bout with the virus.  Many Living Wills prohibit intubation, which involves the use of a ventilator to help a patient breathe, which prohibition could prove deadly for a patient suffering from coronavirus.  It is very important to read your Living Will to make sure that intubation is not prohibited under all circumstances.  You may also want to consider whether experimental medical treatments should be permitted.

Medical Power of Attorney and HIPAA Releases

Similar to the discussion surrounding the financial Power of Attorney above, the agent designated as your medical decision-maker should be someone local or willing to travel, and your document should authorize the agent to express decisions to your care providers verbally and by electronic means of communication.  Chances are, your agent will not be permitted into the hospital to speak with your care providers and sign any necessary paperwork.

Emergency Envelope

You should consider creating something that you can “grab-and-go” in the event of a medical emergency.  An emergency envelope can be hung with a magnet on the refrigerator and should include copies of your Advance Medical Directive (Living Will, Medical Power of Attorney, HIPAA Release), your emergency contact’s information, detailed lists of all known medical conditions, medications, vitamins and supplements, and health insurance information. 

Conclusion

After reading this article and perhaps determining that you either need to have your documents reviewed or execute new ones, you may be wondering how to get this accomplished in the safest manner.  The attorneys at Hook Law Center can meet with you by phone, by video conference, or in our offices, separated by a long conference table and face masks.  The signing of any new documents can happen in a “drive by” fashion without you having to leave your vehicle.

Ask Kit Kat: Border Collies on Duty

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about border collies patrolling the construction area of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT), which is expanding from 3 lanes to 4?

Kit Kat: Well, this is extremely interesting. Seabirds have traditionally nested in the area between Hampton and Norfolk, VA for years. Located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, it’s an area dotted with small islands, some man-made and some which have naturally formed. One of these islands is now-decommissioned Ft. Wool, which previously was constructed after the War of 1812 to protect the area from any more attacks from the British. Ft. Wool has been designated to become home to the area’s seabirds, because their previous nesting spot has been taken to support the extra lane of the HRBT, which should be completed in 2025. In order to “encourage” the birds to relocate, border collies have been hired to chase and bark at the birds. The experiment is working. Also, Ft. Wool is being made more attractive to the birds by clearing some of the trees, sealing up entrances to buildings and gun pits, and spreading sand and gravel for their nests. If more nesting areas are needed, there is a proposal to increase the area by adding as many as 33 barges filled with sand and gravel to add to the existing space.

The border collies belong to a company named Flyaway Geese, which is based in North Carolina. The company uses about a dozen border collies to patrol in morning and evening, popular times for bird landings. The dogs are all named. Greg, Marx, and Hoop are some examples of the names. To see them on duty is quite a sight! They wear goggles to protect their eyes from the sun and booties on their feet to protect their pads from injuries of the rocks and some asphalt surfaces. They work in the construction area in shifts, thus “encouraging” the birds to land at nearby Ft. Wool by barking and running along their island, which is an active construction site.

This project has been approved by both the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Virginia Department of Transportation. It’s nice when different departments of the government work together! (Gordon Rago, “New landing pad,” The Virginian-Pilot, April 27, 2020, p. 1 & 4)

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