By DAN WEINER | Attorney
Who will look after my kids if my partner and I are hospitalized with Covid-19? Who will make my health care decisions for me if I’m on a ventilator, sedated, and unable to make those decisions myself? Would I want to receive aggressive medical treatment in all circumstances? Who will pay my bills and manage my finances if I am on a ventilator? Who will inherit my money and assets if I pass away? As coronavirus continues its rampage confining us to our homes and causing unimaginable devastation to thousands of families, many of us feel a sense of urgency around these questions that was not the case before coronavirus.
So many facets of our lives are beyond our control right now, but the answers to these questions are not. If we fail to answer them ourselves by making a plan, the State of California’s plan will be imposed on you. That could mean that your relatives are fighting about who should be making your medical decisions and what kind of treatment you receive; your children could be raised by someone who you never would have chosen; a former spouse could inherit your retirement accounts because you forgot that they were named as beneficiary on those accounts.
The only way to avoid unintended consequences is to plan ahead by making a will, possibly a trust, an advance health care directive and a financial power of attorney.
But how can you accomplish this when the world has closed down? The answer to this really depends on your circumstances. If you’re single, have no children, and have very little in the way of assets, it may be that using online software to make a basic will, power of attorney and advance health care directive is all that you need.
However, anyone that does not fit into the categories listed above should work with an attorney. Continuing with the retirement accounts example, you may decide to make a Will online leaving your retirement accounts to your children rather than your ex-spouse. Without the benefit of legal advice, you would not know that your retirement accounts will go to your ex-spouse, regardless of what your Will says. If they are named as beneficiary on the accounts, that will trump what it says in your Will. DIY estate planning is riddled with pitfalls such as that one.
If you decide you need to work with an attorney, what are your options now that many estate planning attorneys are not able to meet with clients due to the current social distancing restrictions?
Our firm is one of many that has converted to a fully virtual practice almost overnight. All of our planning sessions are held via Zoom. Signing meetings take place in clients’ driveways; everyone wears masks and gloves and maintains social distancing protocols. Prior to the pandemic we were holding regular live presentations to educate the community about the risks of failing to plan. We have now switched to bi-weekly webinars. These are designed to give you all of the knowledge and information that you need to empower you to put an estate plan in place that will protect your family and give you peace of mind. Details of our upcoming webinars can be found at DRWevents.com.
It can feel very confronting to tackle head on issues that most of us would rather not think about. One of my clients is an emergency medicine physician who is on the front-line treating patients suffering with Covid-19. We expedited his plan for him given the circumstances. He summed up what this is all about in three words: peace of mind.
— Dan Weiner is a licensed attorney who runs an estate planning practice.