With the advent of the current global pandemic and when considering your own health and providing for your family in the future, a Will will ensure your affairs are handled per your request after death. However, have you considered what might happen if you become incapacitated? Given the current global health climate, you should be concerned with having your affairs handled in the event of incapacity. The following estate planning documents are ones that every single adult, no matter your background, needs during a pandemic or any other time of uncertainty to ensure that your assets and your family are protected at all times. These documents are the following:
- Designation of Health Care Surrogate
- Living Will
- HIPAA Authorization
- Durable Power of Attorney
These are the documents that assist you in preparing for life’s uncertainties such as becoming affected by the COVID19 pandemic. These documents provide for lifetime planning by selecting the person you want to make your medical and financial decisions should you be unable to do so. Additionally, having these estate planning documents will reduce the burden on your family and will ensure that your wishes are honored.
Unlike a Will, which is intended as your last word on the distribution of your assets and has no effect until death, these four documents only have an effect during your life and have no effect upon death. Moreover, anyone can become incapacitated, regardless of whether it is due to an illness, age, or injury. Consequently, no matter your wealth, age, gender, or ethnicity, every adult should have these documents. The purpose of these documents is to provide your wishes regarding the handling of your health and finances during incapacity.
So Let’s Review These Documents More Closely
Designation of Health Care Surrogate: This is the most important document. This document designates a trusted individual to make all your medical decisions should you be unable to do so. These decisions include which hospital to go to, authorizing pain relief, and managing medical providers.
Living Will: This document memorializes your end of life decisions to provide guidance to your health care surrogate. These decisions include your position on whether you want to receive medical treatment such as artificial hydration or nutrition if you are in a terminally ill state.
HIPAA Authorization: This document appoints individuals that have the right to receive your medical information from medical providers. This document does not provide individuals any power to make any medical decisions on your behalf, it only gives the right to receive information.
Durable Power of Attorney: This document designates a trusted individual to make all your financial decisions should you be unable to do so. Should you become incapacitated, financial accounts may become inaccessible, bills may not get paid, and a tax return may not be filed. Thus, a durable power of attorney will allow you to select a trustworthy agent to handle all of these financial matters.
What Happens if You Do Not Have These Documents?
If you do not have these documents, a family member or another individual will need to petition the court through a guardianship proceeding to obtain the right to make your medical and financial decisions. It is a misconception that a spouse or your adult children, if any, can automatically take over one’s important decisions during incapacitation. Besides being burdensome, time consuming, and expensive for your family, a judge will have the final decision in selecting your medical and financial agent should you become incapacitated. Thus, a judge may not elect the person you would have picked, and your wishes may not be honored.
Therefore, no matter your current state, it is critical to not only plan for your future but also your present so that you and your family have the peace of mind of having these four essential estate planning documents, especially during these unprecedented times we live in.
Presented (on behalf of the Firm) by