Now might be a good time to reach out to clients and schedule an estate plan review. It’s not uncommon for clients to push off such discussions thinking they have time.
The current health crisis may provide an opportunity to introduce the topic of an estate planning check-up. I am in the process of reviewing my estate planning documents and making appropriate changes to help my family. We are in good health, but the best time to plan your estate is when you’re not in a crisis. You might want to consider doing the same for your clients and yourself.
When was the last time your client’s planning documents were reviewed and updated?
An estate plan review consists of the basic estate planning documents. Here’s a handy list of these documents and their functions:
- Will – sets our instructions for estate distribution
- Power of attorney (POA) – appoints someone to handle your financial and legal matters should you become unable to do so for yourself
- Healthcare proxy – appointments a person to make health care related decisions for you should you become unable to so for yourself
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) release form – grants someone access to your health information; allows your named agents to communicate with doctors. Does not grant decision-making authority.
- A living will or advance directive – expresses your healthcare wishes, including your end of life wishes.
While you are at it, consider looking over beneficiary designation forms to make sure they are up to date and correct. Consider having your client’s attorney as part of the process.
The current COVID-19 crisis brings new considerations to some typical estate planning documents. Here are two points related to COVID-19:
- The healthcare proxy should be reviewed for blanket language, such as “I do not want to be intubated under any circumstance.” To go on a ventilator, you may have to be intubated. With so many COVID-19 patients needing ventilators, your client may want to review that directive.
- Decision-making by remote communication – Under normal circumstances, the health care proxy agent would have physical meetings with doctors and sign authorizations. Given the contagious nature of COVID-19 and a stressed healthcare system; the physical meetings may not be a possibility. Most health care proxies have not considered this issue. An attorney can add language that incorporates a provision that authorizes the agent to communicate with medical personnel using Zoom and similar types of communication, email and the use of electronically signed documents, etc. provided state laws permit electronic communications and signatures for this scenario.
Is COVID-19 a one-time event? At this time, no one really knows. As planners we need to think about all the possibilities and to plan accordingly. Many of my colleagues are going to modify client’s healthcare proxies to address the above as standard operating procedure, a pre-cautionary measure.
It’s a difficult time for everyone, but let’s take this opportunity to focus on the need for planning. It’s an excellent way to demonstrate value in our client relationships.
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