The COVID-19 pandemic has me thinking about my family’s health and our interaction with the public in ways that I never have before. I know I’m not alone in having these feelings and concerns. Seemingly healthy people have started preparing for the worst and praying for the best.
Over the past few weeks, I have received more calls than usual for information on estate planning. What should I have? Do I need a will? What will happen to my house? Will my spouse be taken care of if something happens to me? Who will make my medical decisions if I become incapacitated and unable to make them for myself? In these times of no guarantees, people want to have one guarantee, that they’ve taken care of their loved ones.
All of these questions and concerns can be answered and handled by an estate planning attorney. Having an attorney who can walk you through the process will make it less overwhelming and easier for you to get your affairs in order.
Many times people who contact me with estate planning questions think the first thing they need is a will, but actually the focus should be setting up a power of attorney and medical directives.
What Is A Power Of Attorney
A power of attorney is a signed legal document that allows another person to act on your behalf. It will ensure that your personal affairs are attended to when you don’t have the ability to manage them on your own. A power of attorney steps in if you are no longer mentally or physically capable of running your personal, legal, medical and financial affairs.
There are a few types of power of attorney legal documents. In each document, you designate a person to handle various matters for you if you become incapacitated.
- A financial power of attorney handles financial matters on your behalf and has the ability to pay bills, write checks, make deposits, sell or purchase real estate and sign tax returns.
- A healthcare power of attorney makes medical decisions on your behalf while you are either temporarily or permanently unable to make such decisions. This differs from a living will/advanced healthcare directive (see below).
Medical directives and desires are an increasing concern, as well. Due to COVID-19, many hospitals have implemented “Do Not Resuscitate” policies, where patients are denied heroic measures to prolong their life in order to make space for patients who are more likely to survive.
This is why it’s so important to set up medical directives such as a living will/advanced healthcare directive and HIPAA waiver. A living will/advanced healthcare directive is a legal document that states your end-of-life medical treatment. This differs from a healthcare power of attorney because it’s used only for terminal conditions.
By signing a HIPAA waiver document, you are allowing family members to have access to your medical information so they can speak with your health care providers in case of a medical emergency or if you become incapacitated.
How To Set Up Estate Planning Documents
With stay-at-home orders currently in place, you may be thinking how can I possibly meet with an attorney to set up legal documents that need signatures and to be notarized.
The good news is estate planning can easily be accomplished remotely by phone, email and video. In fact, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order temporarily allowing notarizations to be performed by video conference. This is important because certain documents require witnesses and a notary at the time of signing, but this can now be executed without having to leave your home.
So if you are ready to get started with your estate planning from home, follow these steps:
- Contact an estate planning attorney by telephone or email to discuss setting up a power of attorney and other estate planning documents. There is no need to meet face to face, but video conferencing with an attorney can be arranged to help assist you with your estate planning.
- Gather information. Who should be your power of attorney? You need to consider a family member or someone else you trust to have access to all of your financial information, pay your bills, handle important paperwork and medical decisions. You must have total trust in the person to not divulge any of your confidential information, and it should be someone who will act in your best interest.
- Documents will be drafted by your attorney. The documents can be emailed to you to review for accuracy and approval.
- Document signing and notarization. Your attorney will set up a Facetime, Zoom or another type of videoconferencing call with you and the notary public to sign the legal documents. You will need to show some kind of identification such as a driver’s license or passport. The notary public will notarize the paperwork and then your attorney will send the signed and notarized documents to you.
It’s that easy. No more wondering and worrying, about estate planning anyway. You can now give yourself peace of mind knowing that you have a plan in place to provide for yourself and your family in a time of crisis.
For more information about estate planning, you can reach Attorney Johnelle R. Peer at The Cochran Firm https://www.cochrantexas.com/ at 1800 THE FIRM (1-800-843-3476) or contact us now via our online chat.
Johnelle is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff where she received her BA in Criminal Justice and her MS in Addiction Studies. After graduate school, Johnelle went to work for the Dallas County Community Supervision and Corrections Department (Adult Probation). She worked in several capacities in that department including as a Felony Court officer, Field Officer, and as a Specialty Court officer. After 13 years of service at CSCD, Johnelle enrolled in the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law where she earned her Juris Doctorate with high honors and was admitted to the Texas State Bar in 2019. Her areas of practice include Family Law, Estate Planning, Wills and Guardianship.