The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought the wellbeing of ourselves and our families into a sharper focus, highlighting the importance of planning for the unexpected. Although it may seem as though circumstances are spinning beyond our control, we are not powerless. A concrete step you can take to ensure the welfare of your family is to pull out your estate planning documents and take a close look to verify that they still reflect your wishes and accomplish your goals.
As you review your documents, ask yourself a few important questions:
Does your Last Will and Testament and/or Revocable Living Trust still accomplish your goals? In your Will, you specified how you want your money and property distributed to the beneficiaries you have chosen. In addition, if you have children, you probably named a guardian to care for them if you cannot, and perhaps you even specified a caretaker for your pet. In your Revocable Living Trust, you likely named a trusted person to be your co-trustee or successor trustee to step in to manage the money and property held in the trust during your lifetime if you are unable to do it yourself. In addition, you specified how the money and property in the trust should be distributed to beneficiaries once you pass away.
Life is constantly changing, so it is important to review not only the people you have named as beneficiaries, but also to consider whether the people you named to act as your personal representative or trustee are still your top choices. Even if you are still comfortable with your previous choices, are the individuals you selected currently available to act in those roles? Is the person you chose to be the guardian of your children still available and willing to care for them? Have there been life changes such as death, divorce, birth of a child or children, a move or simply aging that would make your previous choices no longer the best option?
Are you still comfortable with the people you have named to be your agents under your Medical and Financial Powers of Attorney? In your medical power of attorney, you named a person you trust to make medical decisions for you if you are too ill or unable to speak for yourself. In your durable financial power of attorney, you designated an individual to make financial and property decisions for you should you become unable to manage your own affairs. Make sure the person you have chosen is currently available to act as your agent. Consider designating individuals you trust but who also live close by to act in these roles. Consider also if you have young adult children who might need medical and financial powers of attorney of their own.
Does your Living Will or Advanced Medical Directive, the legal document that spells out your wishes concerning end-of-life care, still accurately reflect your wishes, for example, whether you would like to receive life support if you are in a persistent vegetative state or have a terminal condition? Make sure family members have a copy of it or know where it can easily be found to ensure that they will not have to guess about what you would want if you become very ill and are unable to communicate your wishes.
Do you need to modify or update the beneficiary designations of your retirement accounts and insurance policies? If you have already named beneficiaries, now is the time to make any changes that are necessary to reflect your current wishes.
Do you have a list of legal, financial, and medical professionals who have performed or are still performing services for you, and if you do, is this list up to date? The list should include their contact information so your family can easily reach them in the event their help is needed if you become ill or pass away. In addition, ensure HIPAA authorizations are in place with medical professionals to ensure your family members are able to obtain needed information.
Do you have a current list of all your accounts and important documents? The list should include bank and investment accounts, titles to vehicles and homes, credit card accounts or loans, digital accounts (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) and passwords, Social Security cards, passports, and birth certificates, which may be needed to manage your property if you become ill, or to settle your estate if you pass away.
If you have these documents in place, you are well prepared! If you don’t have an estate plan or if your estate plan needs updating (or if you need help reviewing your existing plan to ensure it accomplishes your objectives) this is something you can do today to prepare for the future.