The COVID-19 pandemic has us on edge. We’ve been forced to face our fears, whether it’s the fear of becoming ill, losing a business or livelihood, or having to spend time alone. With all the anxieties and unknowns weighing heavy, it might feel like there’s suddenly a pressing need to get our affairs in order ― just in case. The current crisis raises the question of how prepared we are and highlights the importance of having the proper legal documents in place to manage assets during incapacity, set forth wishes for medical care and direct who is to receive property after death. Those documents are what make up on estate plan. An estate plan, well drafted, will ease fears and provide you with peace of mind, knowing that you have prepared for all potentials.
The truth is that just about everyone should have an estate plan, even in the absence of health threats. At times we are drawn to take action and at other times we are pushed. These days, we are being pushed. So, if you don’t have an estate plan, now may the right time for you to take action to get one put together.
Your estate plan will include several documents. Let’s review the main documents involved with an estate plan:
1. Health Care Directives: Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will
The Health Care Power of Attorney authorizes another person to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself. This document is needed even if it is to be your spouse or partner that you would want to make decisions for you. You will want to name someone who understands your wishes and your religious and ethical beliefs about medical care, will to be able to talk with health care providers, and will be available in case of an emergency. If you want to give specific directives regarding end of life care, consider also creating a Living Will. A Living Will is a separate document that allows you to state your preferences on life-prolonging medical treatment in the event of a terminal condition or persistent vegetative state.
2. Durable Power of Attorney
The Durable Power of Attorney authorizes another person to act on your behalf in financial matters. The agent’s rights depend upon the specifics of your durable power of attorney document, but often include the authority to sign legal documents, pay bills, buy and sell real estate, and manage your investments. It is important to choose a person you trust absolutely and who has some experience in managing financial matters. You can elect that your durable power of attorney will take effect immediately or only in the event of your incapacity. The rights of an agent under a durable power of attorney end at your death.
A Will is a written document that allows you to designate who will receive your estate (property that does not pass by beneficiary designation or joint ownership arrangement) after you die. The beneficiaries could be family members or other individuals or charitable organizations. You may designate a guardian for any minor children, provide that your beneficiaries receive their inheritance outright or in trust and you can designate who will be your personal representative — that is, the person who will pay your final bills and taxes and then distribute the balance remaining to your beneficiaries. A Will can be simple or elaborate, depending on your wishes.
4. Revocable Trust
A Revocable Trust is a document created to control property during your lifetime and after death. Generally, you would be the trustee and primary beneficiary of your trust during your lifetime. The trust is funded with certain of your property and other assets. A successor trustee controls the property after your death. A Revocable Trust, while a bit more involved than a Will, has several advantages. A Revocable Trust can provide for the management of finances and property during lifetime in the event of incapacity. It avoids probate and probate filing fees after death. The Revocable Trust also provides more privacy and can shorten or eliminate delay in distributing property to beneficiaries.
At Bartelt Grob, S.C., we are committed to providing the peace of mind that comes from a well-designed and drafted estate plan, even during the current crisis. We have modified our methods to ensure safety. We meet with our clients remotely or by phone to discuss their estate planning goals and objectives. The legal requirements for signing of estate planning documents ― in-person in the presence of witnesses and/or notaries ― remain unchanged. We have adopted procedures for signing of estate planning documents that are both safe and legally compliant, including curbside signings.
If you need an estate plan, or if you need to make some updates to your plan, we encourage you to be in touch. We are here to help.