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Estate Planning in a Pandemic

Posted by Shanna Tingom, AAMS® on 6/9/20 6:30 AM

The ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted life in countless ways. The health crisis has led many people to examine their own mortality and realize that they are not prepared for the end of life situations. As the crisis continues to rage on, it is more important than ever to make sure that your will and other important estate planning directives are in place.

According to Caring.com, 52% of people over the age of 55 do not have a will or other vital estate planning documents in place. While it can be a bit more challenging to get these directives signed and notarized during a pandemic, it is still possible to get it done. Here five things that you need to include in your estate planning document.

Will: The backbone of any estate planning document is the will. This legal document governs the distribution of assets and wealth after your death. This document can also be used to appoint guardians for minor children.

Advanced Care Directive: In today's uncertain times, an advanced care directive is an essential piece of your estate planning process. Also called a living will, this document lays out what type of medical care you wish to receive should you become terminally ill. In this document, you can outline plans for life-support directives and organ donation wishes. Having a living will in place will take a substantial amount of pressure off of your loved ones if you are unable to make your own medical care decisions.

HIPPA Authorization: While combing through all of your healthcare directives, be sure to devote time to declaring a HIPPA authorization. The federal Health Insurance Affordability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) legislates privacy rules for medical records. A HIPPA authorization allows you to release your medical records to designated individuals. Most people give this authority to their spouse, children, and other close family members. This allows others to effectively communicate with healthcare providers about your condition if you are hospitalized.

Health Care Power of Attorney: In addition to an advanced care directive, a health care power of attorney will ensure that your medical care future is secured. This legally binding power of attorney will allow you to name a trusted individual to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are not able to do so yourself.

Financial Power of Attorney: Lastly, it is important to give a specified person the authority to direct your financial transactions if you are not able to do so. Depending on your state's rules, you may need witnesses to sign this power of attorney to make it legally binding.

Considerations to Make in Light of COVID-19: With many states still in various stages of closure, it can be challenging to procure the necessary witnesses and notarizations of signatures needed to legalize your estate planning documents. Be sure to talk with your estate planner about possible options for you to finalize these papers. Before the pandemic, there had already been 23 states that had passed legislation that enabled remote online notarization using two-way audiovisual communication. Because of the crisis, Arizona, Iowa, and Pennsylvania have also permitted online polarization. In addition, other states have passed legislation or issued executive orders that allows for remote witnessing.

You may sleep better at night if you have made the effort to secure your estate properly. You owe it to your loved ones to ensure that your plans are in place.