COVID-19 and the Continuing Importance of Powers of Attorney
Certainty in this uncertain time is peace of mind many families are finding themselves without. The Covid-19 pandemic is highlighting harsh realities of life all of us were aware of but chose to ignore. One such reality is the importance of comprehensive and up-to-date estate planning. Many parents, grandparents, established business owners, and seasoned professionals are all awaking everyday to the potential of expensive and long-term hospitalization with the chance of persisting and life-changing health consequences. One can’t fight Covid-19 directly, it isn’t a person or thing to combat with force or wit, however, mitigation and foresight are always available. Estate planning will allow you to proactively get your affairs in order and, worst case scenario, if you become infected, allow you to rapidly and intelligently respond in a way that meets you and your families unique needs. Whether you have no estate plan or are looking to update an existing plan, where should you start? Given the current health crisis, taking a look at your powers of attorney, or POAs, is a good place to start.
Power of Attorney
A comprehensive estate plan provides the instructions necessary for estate administration, via a will, while tax relief and flexibility with asset distribution can be accomplished via trusts. Critical issues and decisions during life, however, must be addressed separately. That is where your powers of attorney come into play. A power of attorney comes in many forms, but its primary purpose is to grant authority to one or more responsible parties to handle financial or health decisions of a person in the event of illness or other incapacity. Life, and its associated obligations and burdens, tend to continue regardless of one’s physical or mental health. As many families are finding out, the bills keep coming due regardless of COVID-19. Powers of attorney are protection that ensures affairs are handled and medical wishes are followed even if you are lacking capacity in mind or body.
In your estate plan you will want both a financial power of attorney and a healthcare power of attorney. Both are agency agreements that grant another individual the authority to make decisions, within a certain sphere of decisions whose terms you dictate, on your behalf. A financial power of attorney, as the name suggests, grants your agent the authority to make financial decisions for you. Managing investments, buying selling land or property, representing you in business negotiations, etc. Healthcare power of attorney works the same way but with healthcare decisions. If you are incapacitated or otherwise can’t decide for yourself, your agent will decide who your doctor is, what treatment you undergo, what medication should be administered, etc.
As always, the terms, powers, and limits for your agents are decided by you in the documents that appoint your agent. If you want to add limits on how long they are appointed, what issues they can or cannot decide, or when exactly their powers manifest, you can do so. Furthermore, you always possess the authority to dismiss them outright or appoint someone new.
Powers of attorney are important to have because spouses or family members will face difficulty and frustration gaining access to things like bank accounts and property that is in your name only. This can be especially damaging within the context of business or professional relations in which the “gears of industry” must keep moving. Regrettably, if an individual trusted to handle the business if something happens doesn’t possess the authority to so, significant or even fatal business consequences may result. The same goes for medical decisions, often treatment decisions must be made right there and then. Hesitation may mean permanent damage or death to you and if someone doesn’t have express authority to make those decisions, things get confusing, messy, and take a lot longer.
If you decide not to draft one or more powers of attorney and you end up incapacitated, then, in certain situations, a court is forced to appoint either a guardian or conservator and the family is effectively cut off from independently managing the relevant affairs of the incapacitated family member. Further, if a court is forced to action, the entire process will take longer, cost more, be public knowledge, and is immensely more complex than it otherwise should be. Having an experienced Ohio estate planning attorney draft the appropriate POAs can avoid a lot of headache and save a lot of money down the line.
Even with the uncertainly pandemics bring, certain estate planning questions always linger. Who will manage my finances and investments if I am sick or incapacitated? Who will pick what doctor treats me or if a risky but potentially lifesaving procedure should be performed? What if I am put on life sustaining medical support? In what situations and for how long will I remain on such support, if I want to be on it at all? These types of issues and questions also must be addressed and accounted for by your estate plan. That is why finding and working with experienced Cleveland estate planning attorneys are so critical. These types of decisions and potential consequences for your life and wellbeing are not things that should be done on the fly or with doctors and stressed out family members demanding a decision. Unfortunately, with COVID-19 cases becoming more and more prevalent with each passing day, the necessity of proper POAs is crystal clear and those without these documents are scrambling to find estate planning attorneys who are open and still taking clients. If your estate planning documents, especially POAs are out of date or incomplete, contact a local estate planning attorney right away. Courthouses and government agencies are closing daily, and you don’t want to find yourself without the stability of critical legal documents during this most unstable time.
COVID-19, for good or ill, has and will continue to change how we live, work, and survive. Fortunately, one aspect of life that has largely gone untouched is estate planning. Estate planning was smart to do before Covid-19 and it still is. Northeast Ohio has felt the touch of this disease like every county in the world has. Cleveland estate planning attorneys are working around the clock to meet the historic demand for quick and immediate estate planning and are currently utilizing more teleconferencing and remote legal services than ever before to make their existing and new clients comfortable and secure. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are all proactive protection measures that the majority of Americans are following, even if they cause financial hardship or social strain. Estate planning also represents a proactive protection measure, however, it seldom causes any financial or social pain, it actually prevents them. As such, it’s strange that 50% of people don’t even have a simple will. Considering the ongoing crisis, make sure you and your family are in the 50% that protects, not the 50% leaving everything to chance.
The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.