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How can estate planning help me during a pandemic?

Right now, many people are facing a lot of uncertainty, whether that is about getting sick from the ever-spreading  COVID-19 pandemic, having to self-quarantine, work stoppages, job loss, school closings/re-opening or closures that may be forthcoming during the pandemic.

One thing that you can be certain about during this pandemic if you take the time to do it correctly, is estate planning.  Estate planning is not just having a Last Will and Testament to inform the probate court of where you want your assets to go when you pass away.

Estate planning is a comprehensive plan that not only takes care of your estate when you pass away but also takes care of you while you are alive. For example, if you happen to get infected by the COVID-19 virus and need to be quarantined in a hospital for several weeks, ask yourself the following: do I have an up-to-date plan that allows my spouse or children to take care of my financial well-being? If I can’t make healthcare decisions, do I know who is going to make those healthcare decisions for me? If you answered “NO” to either of those questions or are uncertain then you need to consider getting a comprehensive estate plan in place or having your current estate plan reviewed by a qualified estate planning attorney.

Ask yourself, “What do I need to have in place in order to have a comprehensive estate plan?”

There are five things you need to have a comprehensive estate plan:

1. Living Will: Allows you, the signer of the document, to make an end of life determination; it is not up to a family member or friend. It allows doctors and family members know your intentions in term of life support and when (if at all) to withdraw said life support.

2. Health Care Power of Attorney: Allows you to nominate agents (family or friends) to make healthcare decisions for you if you are not able to make them for yourself. This may be necessary due to a medical emergency in which you are unconscious and cannot speak or for some elderly that suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia and need help in making those decisions. (Note: Many older healthcare powers of attorney may need to be updated if they do not contain an up to date HIPPA Release as required by Ohio law.)

3. Durable Financial Power of Attorney: Allows you to nominate agents (family or friends) to make legal and financial decisions for you if you are not able to make them for yourself. Again this would come into effect if you were dealing with a medical emergency or have some other kind of incapacity to make those decisions. (Note: Many laws have changed that require specific language be used and specific powers to the agent be individually listed to be valid – general rule of thumb is to update these documents every five years to keep up with changes in law.)

4. Last Will & Testament: This is what most people are familiar with in terms of an estate plan and unfortunately many people think that is all they need. A Last Will & Testament only names the beneficiaries who are to receive your assets when you die and who is to be guardian of your minor children when you pass away.

5. A Probate Avoidance Plan: This is not a document but it is more about having a solid relationship with your estate planning attorney. Your estate planning attorney should have the knowledge and experience to guide you and your family through a plan that takes into effect your goals in terms of distributions and beneficiaries of those distributions as well as the most efficient way to meet those goals. The least efficient way is though the probate court. Therefore, a plan that avoids probate is the most efficient way to meet your distribution goals to your desired beneficiaries.

If you do not have a comprehensive estate plan and would like to learn more, or you have a plan from several years ago and are uncertain if your plan still meets all of your goals, please feel free to contact The Law Offices of Saia, Marrocco & Jensen Inc., and we can provide a phone consult to discuss your plan. In addition, due to concerns of spread of COVID-19 and social distancing practices, most all of this planning can be done via phone calls and email with limited in person contact.