News about the coronavirus is still everywhere, and we have all been affected by it in many ways, even if we are currently completely healthy. Although great uncertainty and different views exist, states across the nation are all in some phase of “reopening” and loosening restrictions on businesses and travel and gatherings. As this continues, we still are focused on the wellbeing of ourselves and our families, both physically and financially. Although many circumstances still feel beyond our control for a lot of people, we are not powerless. Now is a good time for reviewing your estate plan.
Part of your focus to ensure the welfare of your family should be to pull out your estate planning documents and review your plan. Take a close look to verify that your plan still reflects your wishes and is able to accomplish your goals. As you review your plan, there are six key questions to ask yourself.
In your will, you have 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 in your will 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 even 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 you have named in the trust document 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 executor 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? Do you have a plan in place outside of your will regarding who will care for your children in an emergency? If several years have passed since you drafted your documents, your executor or trustee may have moved away or may otherwise be unwilling or unable to serve. In the current crisis, the person you have selected may be unavailable due to illness, quarantine, or a stay-at-home order, and if he or she lives out of state, may be subject to travel restrictions.
In your medical power of attorney or health care surrogate designation, 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 power of attorney, you designated an individual to make financial and property decisions for you should you become unable to manage your own affairs. As mentioned above, because of the prevalence of stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and self-quarantines, make sure the person you have chosen is currently available to act as your agent. In reviewing your estate plan, 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.] All of this reflects the importance of having back-up agents in your plan too.
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.
If you have already named beneficiaries, now is the time to make any changes that are necessary to reflect your current wishes. In reviewing your estate plan, if you have not updated those designations, now is a good time to do so.
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. These extra steps are a key part of reviewing your estate plan to have everything available for your agents.
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.
After you finish reviewing your estate plan, if you have these pieces of your plan in place, you are well prepared! If your estate plan needs updating or if you don’t have an estate plan, this is something we can do today to prepare for the future. McCreary Law Office is holding online video meetings with clients, and Jana will be back in Jacksonville in June to meet clients in person. As always, Jana’s primary goal is to help you have peace of mind about the future—regardless of the circumstances.
Eventually, this crisis will be behind us (and that day can’t come soon enough!), but right now, McCreary Law Office wants you to know that the office is still here for you: Please schedule a call to take action to ensure the best plan is in place to provide for your care and for your family.
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