There’s no missing what’s going on out there today. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has swept across the globe and is an international pandemic. Coronavirus is, according to the CDC, more likely to be fatal to the elderly and people who have autoimmune deficiencies or preexisting illnesses.
It’s no surprise that many people are asking how to draft an estate plan in an emergency. As you may or may not know, an estate plan is a way to legally decide where your assets will go after you pass on. People who have no estate plan, or who have an old, outdated estate plan, should take this time to make sure that they have one. And, if a global pandemic doesn’t count as an emergency, nothing does.
First Things First: Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney
This blog is not meant to be legal advice, and your situation is different from your neighbor’s. You will want to talk to an estate planning attorney about drafting an emergency estate plan. The important thing is not to wait, particularly if you have no estate plan or an estate plan that needs updating.
Drafting an estate plan in an emergency is not the ideal way to do things, but that’s where we are today. Here are some suggestions as to which components of the estate plan to draft first.
Components to Draft First
The suggested drafts include, if applicable, a healthcare directive, power of attorney, trust, last will and testament, and business succession plans. We’ll look at each one individually.
1. Healthcare Directive
If illness causes you to become incapacitated, you still want the doctors and nurses who are taking care of you to know what your wishes are. For example, you might not want to be resuscitated (a DNR order). A healthcare directive lays out these wishes in advance, and the hospital will have them on file to refer to in the event that you cannot communicate.
2. Power(s) of Attorney
Finance and healthcare are two sectors of your life where you may need a power of attorney. This trusted individual, who you select, will have decision-making capacity regarding your financial and healthcare decisions in the event that you are unable to make these decisions yourself, such as in the case of severe illness or unconsciousness. An estate planning attorney can help you set up a power of attorney. Make sure you speak with your proposed individual beforehand to ensure they are on board.
A trust is a three-party relationship between you (the donor), a trustee, and the beneficiary. You sign over title to certain assets to the trustee for the eventual benefit of the beneficiary. The title switch goes into effect immediately. The trustee now holds title to the asset, and, when you pass on (or at another time you designate), your beneficiary will get the asset.
A trust is beneficial in an emergency because it goes into effect right away, and it does not require the document to pass through probate court.
4. Last Will and Testament (with a Word of Caution)
If you don’t want a trust and have your heart set on a will, a last will and testament is an option. It describes your wishes for your property after you die, including to whom you want it transferred and how. The word of caution with this document is that a last will and testament must go through probate court. As the courts are closed now because of the pandemic, the wait time on probate court may be even longer than usual—and it was a pretty time-consuming process before all this happened.
5. Business Succession
If you own a business, a business succession plan is a must-have. If you die, you want your business to fall into the right hands. Or, you might want it liquidated or sold. Either way, having a set plan will prevent your hard-earned business from falling into chaos.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and that is why it is so important to contact an estate planning attorney first. The attorney will listen to your particular situation, and he or she will advise you on the most important documents to draft. This session can be done over the phone or via email, but make sure to check with your attorney’s office as to the precautions they are taking during the pandemic.