Covid-19 has certainly made life more challenging for many of us. The restrictions, new procedures, and added complications we all face can be even more challenging when dealing with financial institutions, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and the courts. The “new normal” is likely here to stay at least to some degree. The best way to prepare for this new normal is to make sure your estate planning documents, especially your Health Care Proxy, Durable Power of Attorney, Will, and Trust are in place and up to date.
Health Care Proxy
We have all heard the term Health Care Proxy, but what does it really do and why is it so important? A Health Care Proxy is a statutory term that describes a document consisting of a Living Will, Advanced Directive, HIPPA release and Appointment of an Agent. Some states may break these sections into more than one document. A Health Care Proxy tells the Hospital or Doctor’s Office who you would like to make medical decisions for you if you cannot. This person is called your Agent. Your Health Care Proxy gives your Agent authority to make decisions, authority to access your records (HIPPA release), and describes your end of life wishes to your Agent. Without a Health Care Proxy, it may be necessary to ask the Court to appoint a Guardian. The procedure to appoint a Guardian is costly and takes time. The Courts are working with limited staff and many have shut down for a period of time due to outbreaks of the virus among their staff. An up-to-date and carefully drafted Health Care Proxy will ensure someone is immediately in position to make decisions for you when you cannot. Taking the time to provide your Doctor with a copy of this document will save time should it ever be needed.
Durable Power of Attorney
What if you need someone to help you with your finances, such as writing a check to pay your bills or make decisions concerning your finances when you cannot? A Durable Power of Attorney appoints an Agent to deal with your finances and provides the Agent with a list of powers to act on your behalf. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, and you do not have a Durable Power of Attorney, it may be necessary to have a Conservator appointed. Much like a Guardianship proceeding, the appointment of a Conservator is a court proceeding that is quite costly and will take some time. An up-to-date and carefully drafted Durable Power of Attorney will ensure someone is immediately in position to help you with your finances should you need it and able to make decisions concerning your finances if you are unable to.
Will & Trust
As discussed above, the Courts are not operating at full staff and are not as efficient as they were prior to the pandemic. Ensuring your loved ones can easily manage your estate after you pass is a top priority for many. Everyone should have an up-to-date Will and should consider taking some steps to avoid the probate process, including delays in the distribution of assets when subject to the probate process. There are many ways to avoid probate from updating beneficiary statements on investment accounts, and retirement accounts, to adding joint account holders, to giving away assets during your lifetime, to the formation and funding of Trusts. Trusts can be a great tool to avoid probate and allow an individual to control the distribution of assets even after they are no longer living. It is important to hire an attorney who specializes in estate planning to help you with these documents.
Now more than ever, it is important to have up-to-date estate planning documents in place. An estate planning attorney can help you to ensure you and your family are ready and prepared for whatever the future may bring. With advances in technology such as Zoom, many attorneys will be able to meet with you virtually during the planning period to make the estate planning process as easy as possible. You owe it to yourself to make sure you are prepared.
About the Author: Atty. T. Michael Sullivan focuses his practice on Estate and Trust Administration, Estate Planning and Elder Law; serving clients in Essex and Middlesex County and throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. Atty. Sullivan is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire and New England School of Law. He can be reached at Robinson, Boesch, Sennott & Daly, P.A., 195 New Hampshire Avenue, Suite 255, Portsmouth, NH 03801 | (603) 427-5380.