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Estate Planning in the Age of COVID-19

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been forced to ask ourselves: Am I truly prepared for the worst? And one too often undiscussed yet important aspect of future preparedness is estate planningestate planning in the age of covid 19

In just a few short months, the COVID-19 virus (or, coronavirus) has ravaged the global economy, shattered unemployment claims numbers, and left many Americans worried about the well-being of themselves as well as their families.

In the face of all this turmoil, people are beginning to think more about their health and their financial future — including how to secure the proper legal documents to ensure their loved ones will be taken care of should they pass on.

For better or worse, estate and end-of-life planning is currently at the forefront of many American’s minds.

Coronavirus: Increased Estate Planning Interest

On the website Legal Templates, from January 21, 2020 (the first recorded case of coronavirus in the US) to the first week of April, they saw a 176% increase in traffic to their last will and testament page.

line graph showing traffic spike on last will and testament page due to covid-19 coronavirus

Legal Templates’ last will and testament traffic increase since the first known case of COVID-19 in the United States.

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They also saw major traffic increases to a couple of other pages as well. The following two graphs reflect the number of users on 1. Their living will page, and 2. Their do-not-resuscitate page. 

Fig. 1

line graph showing traffic spike on living will page due to covid-19 coronavirus

Legal Templates’ living will traffic increase since the first known case of COVID-19 in the United States.

Fig. 2

line graph showing traffic spike on dnr form page due to covid-19 coronavirusLegal Templates’ DNR form traffic increase since the first known case of COVID-19 in the United States.

You can see that as the situation became undeniably serious and cases of the virus began to surge, so too did interest in estate planning documents.

While this is anecdotal evidence provided by one website, it’s still a bleak reflection of the current situation in the US, and the overwhelming desire people have to ensure the wellbeing of themselves and their families’ future during this crisis.

With that said, let’s take a look at the importance of having these estate planning documents — ones which Americans across the internet clearly want to learn more about.

Important Estate Planning Documents

COVID-19 is a debilitating and fast-acting disease. With a vaccine likely months or even years away, planning your estate is more relevant now than ever. Control over your end-of-life choices and the financial security of your family could depend on it.

Last Will and Testament

A last will and testament guarantees any property or assets you wish to distribute upon your death are properly passed to the desired individuals and/or institutions.

Do I need one?

If you’re like the more than 60% of American adults, then you don’t have your own legally-binding last will and testament. But without a valid will on file, you’ll have no control over who’ll receive any of your property or other valuables in the event of your passing.

This means that your assets are at the mercy of the probate courts, and usually, your surviving spouse and children are the only people eligible to inherit your estate.

That may be a perfectly adequate option for most people. However, creating a will offers peace of mind by personally involving you in the distribution process, while also minimizing the potential for family infighting after you’re gone.

What to watch out for

More often than not, people only remember to include sentimental or big-ticket items in their will, and forget to account for lesser pieces of property like tools and equipment, digital account information, or collectibles.

Many people also fail to realize that a last will and testament does not protect their estate from entering into probate.

Additionally, avoid including these items in your will since this document cannot dictate or distribute:

  • Jointly-owned property
  • Funeral preferences
  • Retirement savings payouts
  • Stocks and bonds

Revocable Living Trust

Depending on the size of your estate and your individual estate-planning needs, a revocable living trust could be a better option than a will. Revocable living trusts manage your assets while you’re alive, and help you organize who receives your estate in the event of your death.

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In some cases, the person creating the trust can appoint a separate person or institution as the trustee of a living trust. In that scenario, the trustee controls the assets for the trust.

Virtually anything can be included in your trust, and any assets that accrue additional value (like stocks) can be considered taxable income.

A trust differs from a will in that it can protect your assets from probate, and allows you to name an organization like a business or charity as a beneficiary in addition to living individuals.

Do I need one?

If for any reason you wish for your estate to avoid the probate process altogether, consider getting a revocable living trust.

Additionally, if you have significantly valuable assets that are a bit challenging to manage, a trust can help you keep them organized better than merely your will.

 

What to watch out for

Be careful not to make these common mistakes when creating your revocable living trust:

  • Forgetting to include certain assets
  • Misunderstanding what kinds of assets can be included
  • Selecting an unreliable trustee

Advance Directive

Essentially a two-in-one estate planning document, an advance directive combines a living will and medical power of attorney into a single form. Create an advance directive to grant someone the authority to make healthcare decisions for you, and outline your preferences.

percentage statistics on advance directivesSource: Legal Templates’ advance directive infographic

Living Will

A living will outlines your specific medical preferences regarding life-sustaining treatment if you fall into a coma, or otherwise become unable to communicate with health care professionals.

Preferences like whether or not you’re okay with:

  • Tube feeding
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Dialysis
  • Medical and surgical treatments
  • Organ donation

Medical Power of Attorney

A medical power of attorney appoints a trusted representative to make medical decisions for you. This form differs from a living will in that your health care representative may advocate on your behalf should you become incapacitated.

Do I need one?

In short: yes. If the current pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the good health we have today isn’t guaranteed. All Americans over the age of 18 should create an advance directive. Having one provides you as much control over your medical decisions as possible, even when you’re unable to communicate. Be proactive and protect yourself.

fraction of people that have an advance directive infographicSource: Legal Templates’ advance directive infographic

At the very least, it’s important for everyone to consider having one of the forms included in an advance directive in their medical records — be it a living will or a medical power of attorney.

What to watch out for

Some common mistakes folks tend to make when creating an advance directive include:

  • Not getting the advance directive notarized (when required by state law)
  • Not having the correct number of witness signatures (when applicable)
  • Appointing an ineligible candidate as a representative

DNR Form

A DNR form (do-not-resuscitate form) instructs medical personnel to withhold life-saving procedures in an emergency. The consequences of invasive ventilators or the severe chest compressions of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be incredibly difficult to recover from or lead to further complications, particularly for elderly individuals.

Do I need one?

Having a DNR form is not the best solution for everyone. The scope of this legal document is quite literally a life and death matter, and the decision to create one shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s important to consult your doctor and family beforehand.

With that in mind, elderly patients and those who suffer from a chronic or terminal condition are the most common people who choose to create a do-not-resuscitate form.

What to watch out for

Issues people frequently encounter when filling out a DNR form include:

  • Not getting the form notarized (when required by state law)
  • Not having the correct number of witness signatures (when applicable)
  • Not securing a written physician’s statement authorizing the order

Creating Your Estate Planning Documents

Millions of people have now found themselves effectively cut off from their communities in an effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. With many businesses, local government buildings, and law offices in lockdown, it’s a difficult time to try to effectively plan your estate.

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However, any one of the legal documents discussed above can be created easily and safely from the comfort of your home through websites like Legal Templates.

In Conclusion

Having your end-of-life intentions in writing is the best step you can take toward securing a stable future for yourself and your family.

Of course, once things return to normal, it’s always a good idea to finalize your estate planning documents by contacting an attorney.

While the current state of the world feels outside of our control, taking the proper precautions and planning for the worst-case scenario doesn’t have to be. Take charge of your financial and medical health.

And don’t forget to stay up to date on the status of the coronavirus outbreak by regularly checking in on the official Centers for Disease Control coronavirus webpage.

Have questions or need help. Feel free to contact us today by clicking the Contact Us link at the top.

This article, Estate Planning in the Age of COVID-19,  was written by Zachary Vickers and originally appeared on Legal Templates on April 9, 2020.

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About the Author

Aurtho Clint Haynes, CFPThis article was written by Clint Haynes, CFP®. Clint is a Certified Financial Planner® and Founder of NextGen Wealth. You can learn more about Clint by reading his full bio here.

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