Today marks the one-year anniversary of when our country went into lock-down to flatten the curve against the coronavirus. As such, if you've been following along, we are reflecting back on lessons learned from Covid-19 about Estate Planning. If you missed the first four lessons, click here.
5. Lessons Learned from Covid-19: Expect the Unexpected
The biggest lesson learned from Covid-19 as it relates to estate planning is that even with the best plans in place...no matter how little the risk, we should expect the unexpected. We're actually seeing this play out on a daily basis as individuals who should have been low-risk are getting incredibly sick and having to be hospitalized for weeks and months at a time.
No matter what your risk or life expectancy, estate planning is absolutely necessary. Estate planning, most simply put, is the highest form of contingency planning as it involves matters of life and death. Therefore, regardless of whether or not you choose to take the vaccine, you should start estate planning.
6. Lessons Learned from Covid-19: Verbally Communicating Your Wishes has NO Legal Binding
Without legal documentation in place, your verbal wishes have no weight when it comes to making decisions about your health and well-being. For example, let's consider what would happen if a 23-year-old hospitalized with Covid-19 tells her parents that she doesn't want to be resuscitated should she require it in order to live. What if the same 23-year-old gives verbal instructions to her brother on how she wants her personal assets distributed should she die? While those directives are useful, they are not legally enforceable.
This young woman's parents would need to get a court order to enforce a do-not-resuscitate request. And, without a Last Will and Testament in place (or at minimum, a written document), her assets could still end up in court.
As such, one of the lessons learned from Covid-19 is that it's important to engage an estate planning attorney long before you ever think you need one. Your estate planning lawyer will ensure that your wishes for medical treatment as well as transferring your assets are property upon your death are all part of the plan. This can also include the creation and management of living wills, healthcare and mental health powers of attorney, HIPAA authorizations, and durable powers of attorney for financial reasons. Additionally, they will work to minimize any lengthy legal proceedings in the event that distributions must be made under your Will, trust, or otherwise.
7. Lessons Learned from Covid-19: Your Estate Plan Should Include Charitable Giving
Another lesson learned from Covid-19 is that not everyone has a living spouse, child, or grandchild to leave their assets or property to upon death. In fact, it became quite lonely for some individuals when our entire world locked down last spring, and quite sad when those individuals passed away due to Covid-19.
However, we've found that most people do have a favorite charity or church that they regularly give to. As such, we've found that estate planning is a great tool to continue charitable giving beyond the grave IF you have a Last Will & Testament in place.
Without a Will, if an estate passes by intestate succession, the court will distribute your property according to the laws of your state. In North Carolina, the court will look for any living relatives (even if those relatives have had little to no interaction with you over your lifetime) first before your estate becomes the property of the state. Depending on your relationship with distant relatives, you may rather that your estate goes to the charity of your choice rather than a relative you don't really have a relationship with.
8. Lessons Learned from Covid-19: It's Important for Your Entire Family to Be Prepared
While taking the first step and starting the estate planning process is absolutely important, if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it's that it's equally important that your entire family be prepared in the event that a crisis strikes your household. Parents should plan guardianship for their minor children. Spouses should prepare for conservatorships and older adults should plan for long-term care. Much like buying insurance, you hope that you won't have to utilize your estate plan any time soon, but it's better to have on in place in case you do and know that you've done your part to take care of all the important people in your life.
If you are interested in starting the estate planning process, be sure to contact one of our estate lawyers in Raleigh NC, at Eldreth Law Firm PC. We are estate planning lawyers that can aid in helping you and your family makes the right choices for your loved ones.