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 planning.
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.
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.
Legal Templates’ last will and testament traffic increase since the first known case of COVID-19 in the United States.
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.
Legal Templates’ living will traffic increase since the first known case of COVID-19 in the United States.
Legal 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Be careful not to make these common mistakes when creating your revocable living trust:
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.
Source: Legal Templates’ advance directive infographic
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:
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.
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.
Source: 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.
Some common mistakes folks tend to make when creating an advance directive include:
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.
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.
Issues people frequently encounter when filling out a DNR form include:
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.
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.
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.
NextGen Wealth, LLC is a registered Investment Advisor. Information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities product, service, or investment strategy. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial advisor, tax professional, or attorney before implementing any strategy or recommendation discussed herein. NextGen Wealth LLC is registered as an investment adviser in the states of Missouri and Kansas, and is notice-filed in the State of Texas. As such, it may only transact business with residents of those states and residents of any other state where otherwise legally permitted subject to exemption or exclusion from registration requirements.
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