No one wants to think about a time when they won’t be around to care for their loved ones. Tragically, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused millions of people across the United States – and globally – to consider the mortality in a way they may never have before.
Almost a full year after the virus that causes COVID-19 began spreading like a wildfire in the U.S., more than 450,000 have perished from it. While the elderly and those with certain preexisting conditions are among the most vulnerable, people from all age groups and levels of health have died or become seriously ill, often continuing to suffer from lingering effects of the disease.
In a strange confluence, the consideration all people must now give to COVID-19 to protect their health mirrors the consideration they should have for an estate plan that protects their loved ones. Even before COVID-19, it was never preferable to not have an estate plan in place. In a world where the coronavirus is still running amok, an estate plan should be near the top of everyone’s priority list more than ever.
What Should I Have in My Estate Plan?
An estate plan can be as basic or intricate as you want it to be. A plan that addresses COVID-19, however, is one that has at least an Advanced Health Care Directive and a Last Will and Testament.
We’ll discuss each of these in turn below, but as a primer, understand that these are two very important legal documents to have during a pandemic. They are so important that even if they’re all you accomplish at this time, you are much better off than if you had done no planning at all!
Advanced Health Care Directive
Your Advanced Health Care Directive, sometimes referred to as your Advanced Directives or Health Care Proxy, is a document that describes your preferences for end-of-life care. Many COVID-19 patients are unable to effectively communicate such preferences for several reasons, including extreme fatigue, coma, use of breathing tubes, and other factors.
An Advanced Health Care Directive allows you to determine how far doctors and nurses should go to save or preserve your life if you can’t effectively communicate at the time. With your directive, you can choose to prevent or limit medical intervention such as CPR, intubation, certain medications, and more if you are approaching the end of your life. You can also designate a trusted person to make decisions on your behalf for issues not covered by your directives.
Last Will & Testament
Almost everyone should have a last will and testament in their estate plan, even if it’s the extent of planning they do. You might have never considered drawing up a will before the pandemic, but the truth is even this was risky.
Dying without a will or any plans for what should be done with your property is known as dying intestate. Intestate estates can endure a more complicated and costly probate than those backed by a will, which can add unnecessary stress and heartache on already grieving relatives.
The property in intestate estates is also divided according to state law because the deceased left behind no valid instructions for how it should occur – this means inheritances may only be granted to one’s spouse and children if one or both exist and are alive.
More importantly, though, guardianship of minor children may be solely determined by a probate judge. A will lets you state your preferences for guardianship, and judges are inclined to follow these instructions. Absent of the deceased’s preferences, however, the court may need to investigate who among your surviving relatives is willing and fit to act as your children’s guardian.
Consult with an Attorney to Learn about More Options
There are many more options for planning your estate than you may realize. If you’re trying to come up with a plan that can help you address a worst-case scenario involving COVID-19, it’s advised to seek legal counsel. Only a qualified and experienced attorney can offer legal advice and services that can help you protect what’s more important to you during these difficult times.