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How to Update Your Estate Planning Documents In a Pandemic

It's always a good time to evaluate your estate plan, but especially in a pandemic. Here are 3 changes you should make to your estate planning documents.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we learned that it was here to stay for months on end, many of us learned this age-old lesson: to expect the unexpected. In this guide, we’ll walk you through changes you can make to your estate planning documents to bolster them in the face of a pandemic. By implementing these changes, you can have peace of mind knowing that your estate plan will withstand any impacts a pandemic might have. 

3 Ways to Pandemic-Proof Your Estate Plan

If you have an existing estate plan in place, this pandemic may have been cause for you to reevaluate whether or not it was strong enough. Conversely, maybe you didn’t have an estate plan to begin with and realized it would be a good idea to get one right away. Regardless of your situation, we’ve got your back. Here are 3 impactful changes you can make to pandemic-proof your estate plan.

1. Create a Living Will

A living will is an estate planning document that leaves instructions in the unexpected case that you become incapacitated. This could be due to a terminal illness, an accident-induced coma, or other circumstance in which you’re unable to communicate your own wishes. 

In the living will, you can specify what medical treatments you would like, and what treatments you would refuse. For example, you might leave instructions to terminate any life-prolonging treatments if you are in a vegetative state. It’s important to think through various medical scenarios before prohibiting any type of treatment that could potentially be life-saving in certain situations.

Having a living will in place will give you great peace of mind in the face of a pandemic. In case you were to ever contract a disease and became incapacitated, you would be comforted knowing that medical treatments would be carried out per your directives.

2. Appoint a Durable Power of Attorney

A durable power of attorney (POA) allows you to designate an individual to act on your behalf. In most cases, this is in regards to your financial and business matters. A durable POA can be either current or springing. A current POA is effective immediately, yet they will not act unless you become incapacitated. A springing POA only comes into effect in the case that you become incapacitated. 

The key difference is a springing POA typically needs to provide proof that you are incapacitated before they are able to act on your behalf. In the case of a global pandemic, be aware that it could be more difficult for them to obtain the proper proof, such as a doctor’s letter. Although there is no correct choice, it’s important to be aware of potential delays and roadblocks that could be caused when you add layers of protection. 

Having a durable power of attorney in place will prove extremely helpful if you ever fall sick during a pandemic. We saw many cases in which patients were too sick to speak, and even had great difficulty in breathing. In the case you become incapacitated, your POA can swiftly act on your behalf. The key is to select someone whom you can trust. 

Consider a Health Care Proxy

In addition to a durable power of attorney, you should also consider appointing a health care proxy. A health care proxy is similar to a durable power of attorney, but instead, they are responsible specifically for making medical decisions on your behalf. 

If there were any medical needs, your health care proxy would confer with doctors and ensure that you receive proper medical treatment and while referring to your living will instructions. In the case of the pandemic, family members were in many cases not allowed in the hospital. 

Keeping this in mind, it’s a good idea to include permission for your health care proxy to communicate with medical professionals over email, phone call, or text message if needed.

3. Designate a Short-Term Guardian for Children

If you have any children, you should most certainly appoint a short-term guardian. Short-term guardians are helpful if you are away on a long business trip and can’t take your child with you, or you are incapacitated while suffering or recovering from an illness. 

During the pandemic, many individuals who became ill with COVID-19 were hospitalized for days to weeks, depending on the severity. If they had children and did not have a short-term guardian set up, they may have struggled to arrange for proper childcare. 

By setting up a short-term guardian, you would be able to formally hand over the reins to another adult in an emergency. They would be responsible for taking care of your child as you wish. This includes any area related to their wellbeing and upbringing, such as education, healthcare, and finances. 

Pandemic-Proof Your Estate Plan Today

The coronavirus pandemic showed all of us that anything can happen, and at any time. The tricky part about this particular virus is that no one could have predicted its severity — it was the first of its kind. We experienced prolonged stay-at-home orders and shutdowns without any advance notice. It was challenging enough to secure food and supplies, let alone think about updating our estate plans. 

What this all showed us is that emergency preparation is absolutely critical. One of the most common estate planning mistakes is when people fail to update their estate plans. When an emergency or disaster takes place, it’s often too late to do anything about it. Although it’s difficult to imagine every scenario possible, at least we now have the knowledge on how to better prepare for a pandemic.

In this guide, we covered three key estate planning documents that you can create to help protect yourself and your loved ones in the face of a pandemic. There’s no better time than now to start updating your estate plan.

At Trust & Will, we make it easy to establish or update your estate plan. We do this by removing several barriers that prevent people from doing just that. First, we make estate planning accessible by offering affordable products and providing step-by-step prompts that remove the legal jargon and tricky guesswork. Second, we offer end-to-end online estate planning services, meaning that you don’t have to leave your home. Even in the face of a pandemic, we make it possible for you to update your estate planning documents in a pinch. So, what are you waiting for? Get started today!

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