Update Your Estate Plan to Cover Pandemics

Fingers art of family with face mask on walk. Estate Planning. Covid.

The World Health Organization (WHO) gave name to the disease causing the novel coronavirus outbreak on February 11, 2020. The coronavirus disease of 2019 shortly after became known by its abbreviation, CO for corona, VI for virus, D for disease, and 19 for the year of the outbreak: COVID-19. This virus will likely become a milder illness in time because of vaccinations, pandemic controls, and naturally occurring herd immunities. Still, COVID-19 will probably be with us humans forever, endemic in large swaths of the world in varying degrees of intensity. As we understand those ramifications, we should also know what we can about our estate planning in response to this pandemic.

COVID-19 is Here to Stay

Many people have lost loved ones, colleagues, and acquaintances. Our daily lives have forever been disrupted. We put into practice government messaging by limiting our social interactions, wearing masks, and practicing good hand hygiene. If we were able, we have worked from home, and if we have them, we have overseen our children's school day. We debated statistics of those lost, observed new surges, used terms new to many (like efficacy), and waited for COVID-19 to go away.

But according to National Geographic, COVID-19 may eventually transition into a "mild childhood illness," joining the four endemic human coronaviruses which contribute to the common cold. Three determining factors--human immunity retention (vaccine or otherwise), virus evolution, and prevalence of older population immunity--will set the pace of post-pandemic transition. If COVID-19 responds similarly to related diseases, it will take sixty to seventy percent of the human population to become immune to end the pandemic phase. Unfortunately, this means we have no magic to make the coronavirus go away.

The bottom line is that there is no getting around a pandemic; it looms large. Collectively everyone is participating in vanquishing this unseen foe. Individually, though, it is still a good time to ask yourself some questions about your legacy and personal legal preparedness.

Consider these Questions

What is the status of your will? When did you last review it? Have you moved? Does your will reflect the laws of the state in which you live? Is your accounting for any inheritance tax law changes at the state or federal level? Remember that wills are subject to state law even though there are federal inheritance laws. A valid will must be per the laws of the state where it is signed. It is essential to have an up-to-date will. And if you have children who are minors or young adults, having a will that creates a trust at your death is crucial.

If you become ill with a terminal or end-stage condition, it is prudent to have a living will/advanced directive that describes how you envision your medical care at end of life. But should you become sick with COVID-19, which is not in and of itself a "terminal condition" that activates your living will, what treatment would you want? What about experimental treatment? Do you have a medical power of attorney (known as a health care surrogate designation in Florida) appointing an agent to make your health care decisions? And does that agent have the authority to consent to experimental treatment?

These are just two key pieces your estate plan should have. But they are indeed key.

Assess Your Situation

Now is a good time to carefully read through your will and advance directive as currently written. But don't just rely on memory: find those physical documents and read them. If they are outdated based on your current family and circumstances, we can update your plan.

If you do not have these documents currently, it is a good time to start the process of speaking to an attorney about how your plan should be created. This estate plan can provide stability for those you love when you are no longer capable of doing so. In times of great uncertainty, as in the coronavirus pandemic, preparedness is within your control.

I help families with their estate planning needs. If you would like to discuss your personal situation, I would be happy to meet with you. I meet with clients via online meetings and in person, so we have options no matter where you are in Texas or Florida. I even supervise signings of plans remotely when that is needed. Please contact McCreary Law Office or call the Jacksonville, FL office at 904-425-9046 or the Houston, TX office at 713-568-8600 if you would like to move forward.