Coronavirus Causes Increase in Estate Plan Updates

Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.
Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.

With the ever-increasing number of deaths from the coronavirus in Europe and the U.S., many people are now focusing on getting their estate plans in order. Phone meetings or videoconferences with estate planning attorneys have become the new way of updating estate plans, says Barron’s in the article “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know.” This is the case at Galligan & Manning where we have been meeting with our clients by phone or video conference and arranging for documents to be executed in the safety of our clients’ homes.

People are worried, and they are in a hurry too.

Here are a few tips:

Everyone should have three basic documents: a last will or revocable living trust, a financial durable power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney. These documents will allow assets to be distributed, give another person the ability to make financial decisions, if you are too sick to do so, and  allow another person to talk to medical professionals and make medical desisions on your behalf . These same documents are also a good idea for any young adults in the family, anyone older than 18 in Texas.

However, there’s more. In addition to these basic documents, everyone needs to review their beneficiary designations on assets that include bank accounts, IRAs, annuities, insurance policies and any other assets. If family situations have changed, these may be out of date.

Also, parents of minor children need to execute documents appointing guardians to care for their minor children in the event the parent is unable to do so.

While young adults may be more worried about the financial impact of the pandemic, seniors and the elderly are concerned about having documents in order. Wealthy people are concerned about the impact that the pandemic may have on estate planning law, and some are engaged in planning to make substantial gifts, in case the current estate and give tax exemptions are lowered.

Specific issues to be discussed with an estate planning attorney:

  • The advantages of certain trusts, which provide an opportunity to direct how assets will be held, invested and distributed before and after death.
  • Financial durable powers of attorney, which appoint an agent to make financial decisions.
  • Medical powers of attorney which let people designate an agent to make health decisions on their behalf
  • HIPAA Releases which allow family members receive health care and medical information from your health care providers.
  • Living wills, which allow people to designate whether to provide life-prolonging treatment, if in a terminal state

To learn more about what you need to consider when updating your estate plan see https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-life-stages/.

Reference: Barron’s (March 22, 2020) “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know”

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Making End of Life Decisions Part of your Estate Plan

End of life decisions are an important part of your estate plan.

If your end of life decisions are important to you, there are a handful of documents that are typically created during the process of developing an estate plan that can be used to achieve this goal, says the article “Choosing a natural end” from The Dallas Morning News.

The four documents are the Medical Power of Attorney, the Directive to Physicians, the Out-of-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate, and the In-Hospital Do-Not-Resuscitate. Note that every state has slightly different estate planning laws. Therefore, you will want to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state. If you spend a lot of time in another state, you may need to have a duplicate set of documents created. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help.  In Texas, attorneys often prepare the Medical Power of Attorney and Directive to Physicians, and Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders are prepared by medical systems.  See Mary’s excellent blog for further background https://www.galliganmanning.com/living-wills-and-medical-powers-of-attorney-why-they-are-important/.

For the Medical Power of Attorney, you are appointing an agent to make health care decisions if you cannot. This may include turning off any life-support systems, refusing life-sustaining treatment and other end of life decisions. Talk with the person you want to take on this role and make sure they understand your wishes and are willing and able to carry them out.  You have the right to change your agent at any time.

The Directive to Physicians, which is basically the Living Will of Texas, is a way for you to let physicians know what you want for comfort care and any life-sustaining treatment in the event you receive a diagnosis of a terminal or irreversible health condition. You aren’t required to have this, but it is a good way to convey your wishes. The directive does not always have to be the one created by the facility where you are being treated, and it may be customized to your wishes, as long as they are within the bounds of law. Many people will execute a basic directive with their estate planning documents, and then have a more detailed directive created when they have a health crisis.  It and the Medical Power of Attorney serve to nominate and provide guidance to your healthcare decision-maker on end of life decisions.

The Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) forms come in two different forms in most states. Unlike the Directive to Physicians, the DNR must be signed by your attending physician. The Out-of-Hospital DNR is a legally binding order that documents your wishes to health care professionals acting outside of a hospital setting not to initiate or continue CPR, advanced airway management, artificial ventilation, defibrillation or transcutaneous cardiac pacing. You need to sign this form, but if you are not competent to do so, a proxy or health care agent can sign it.

The In-Hospital DNR instructs a health care professional not to attempt CPR, if your breathing or heart stops. It is issued in a health care facility or hospital and does not require your signature. However, the physician does have to inform you or make a good faith effort to inform a proxy or agent of the order.

If you have specific wishes for your end of life decisions, especially if you want a natural end, speak with your estate planning attorney about how to legally prepare to protect your wishes.

Reference: The Dallas Morning News (Jan. 12, 2020) “Choosing a natural end”

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