Essential Documents for your Estate Plan

The Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly has you on edge. We have all been forced to face our fears in some way, whether it’s the fear of falling ill, losing a job, having to spend time alone or losing a loved one. With all these anxieties and unknowns weighing on your mind, it might feel like there’s suddenly a pressing need to get your affairs in order.

We hope that you do not contract COVID-19, but it does not hurt to be prepared if you do need to be quarantined or hospitalized. It can feel scary thinking about getting sick or not being able to make decisions for yourself, but a well thought out estate plan can ease your fears. After all, wouldn’t you feel better knowing that the burden of making health and financial decisions will never fall on unprepared family members?

The truth is that just about everyone should have an estate plan, even if there is no looming health threat. So, if you don’t have one, there’s no better time than now to put it together.

Documents Needed For An Estate Plan

Anyone over the age of 18 requires some level of estate plan. A complete estate plan will also include several important documents, such as a will, revocable trust (sometimes called a living trust), financial durable powers of attorney, advanced directives, and more.

In light of the current situation, the two most important documents to have on hand are the appointment of a Health Care Representative and a durable powers of attorney for finances. You need someone who can do your banking or make your medical decisions if you are quarantined in your home, admitted to the hospital or become incapacitated.

Here’s a look at all the documents you should have in a comprehensive estate plan and what they mean:

1. Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney (DPOA) document is a legal document that gives someone, an Agent the authority to carry on a person’s financial affairs. The DPOA gives the Agent the ability to pay bills, write checks, make deposits, sell or purchase assets or sign any tax returns.

2. Health Care Representative

Similar to a financial durable power of attorney, naming a Health Care Representative (HCR) gives an individual the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are incompetent or incapacitated. If you’re over the age of 18 and don’t have an HCR, your family members will have to request that the probate court appoint a conservator to have these powers.  This can result in unnecessary delays and expense.  The appointment of an HRC is part of your Advance Directives.

3. Living Will

A living will, also part of your advance directives, allows you to specify what end-of-life treatment you do or don’t want to receive if you become terminally ill or permanently unconscious and won’t survive without the administration of life support.  These are difficult decisions that should be made by you rather than placed on concerned family.

4. HIPAA Waiver

While your advance directive contains language that allows your HCR to access your medical records, it’s not uncommon for medical facilities to refuse access to medical information without a stand-alone HIPAA waiver. Make sure you have a stand-alone HIPAA waiver to allow your nominated agents and family members to have access to your medical information so they can speak freely with your health care providers in case of a medical emergency or your incapacity.

5. Last Will And Testament

A last will and testament is a legal document that allows you to direct distribution of your property at the time of your death. A will also allows you to appoint an executor, who oversees the distribution of your assets.

A will also allows you to appoint a guardian to take care of minor children. Again, if you don’t have a will, a court will decide who is the best person to fulfill that role

6. Living Trust

A Living Trust also referred to as a Revocable Trust is a legal document that you make to create an entity to hold your assets, You can change your trust at any time (which is why it’s called “revocable”), and you can set it up to outlive you. If you become incapacitated or are unable to manage your estate, your living trust avoids the need for a court appointed conservatorship.  You will appoint a successor trustee who steps in and manages your affairs without the involvement of the court, avoiding the extra time and money associated with probate. A trust also affords you privacy surrounding the details of your estate, since it avoids the need for probate, which is a public process.

We are offering telephone and video meetings with clients. Governor Lamont issued an Executive Order that allows for remote signing of all of these documents.  Therefore, we you can create a compete and thorough estate plan without leaving the safety of your home.