3 Easy Estate Planning Steps for the Second COVID-19 Wave
We are in the next COVID-19 wave in Massachusetts. Just as we had started to resume activities that were suspended for the first part of the year. Just as we had started to feel like something close to normal might resume. And just as we had started to get to taking care of some things that we did not feel we could do earlier.
One of the things you may have meant to do was get on top of your estate plan. For lots of reasons, now is a really important time to get that done. But if it feels too overwhelming to tackle the whole subject, here are some easy steps you can take to get through this second wave with a some peace of mind.
Health Care Proxy
This document authorizes someone you trust to make medical decisions if you are unable to do so. Most people think of this as an "end of life" issue, but it is equally important for situations where you may be temporarily incapacitated. For example, if you contract the virus and are sick enough that you cannot meaningfully participate in decisions about your care. You will almost certainly recover, but in the meantime it can be confusing and distracting for your family and your health care providers to not have clear direction.
A valid health care proxy for you, your spouse, and your children if they are over the age of 18, can solve this problem. It simply requires a form with the required language, properly executed and witnessed, that you can give your proxy in case anything happens. For the duration of the COVID-19 state of emergency in Massachusetts, we are offering to prepare this document for you free of charge.
Temporary Guardianship for Minors
You may know that you can appoint guardians for your young children in a will, in case you and your spouse pass away at the same time. What you may not know is that you can sign a temporary authorization that will allow a trusted friend or relative to take immediate guardianship if you are both unable to care for them temporarily.
This could happen, for example, if both you and the other parent are infected and hospitalized with COVID-19 This simple form can allow you to know that someone will be able to step in and care for your children without red tape if that happens. It will give your appointed temporary guardian the legal authority not only to take physical custody, but also to interact with your child's school, doctor, or other providers. These people are restricted by various privacy laws, and may not be able to even speak with your guardian about your children without proper documentation.
Unlike other estate planning documents, you cannot simply sign this and leave it in a file until it is needed. This is because it is by nature temporary, and expires within a few months of you signing it. You can, however, have it fully prepared and ready to sign, so that if you or your spouse begins showing symptoms, you can sign it and know that there is a contingency plan for your children.
Activating an Existing Health Care Proxy
If you are the health care proxy for an elderly parent, especially if that parent has cognitive issues or dementia, this is important for you to know. A health care proxy is only legally binding after a health care provider has deemed the patient unable to make medical decisions on their own behalf.
In normal times, this is not usually a problem. You either already have a relationship with your parent's providers, or a physician in a hospital setting will make that determination when you admit your parent or bring them to the emergency room. COVID complicates everything, including this. Most hospitals have enacted strict visitor's policies, and many will not allow any visitors whatsoever in the emergency room.
This means you could find yourself excluded from the health care providers' interactions with your parent, even if they are unable to explain their symptoms or participate in their care. This not only could compromise their care, but could be an extremely distressing and frightening situation for your parent.
As we enter this second wave, if you hold a health care proxy for an elderly parent, you should consider speaking with their primary care provider to make sure there is a note in their record about their capacity to make decisions, so that you have some legal standing to make sure you can be present with them if they have to go to the hospital.
How We Can Help
We will prepare and help you execute a health care proxy, 100% free. We know these are tough times, and if we can help bring peace of mind in this one small way we are happy to do so. Just give us a call at (781) 784-2322, or use the button below to request a call back from a member of our team.
slnlaw is a law firm in Sharon Massachusetts providing business, employment law and estate planning services to individuals and small businesses