Critical Planning: What You Should Have in Place NOW.
Coronavirus has brought widespread illness and a shock wave of loss throughout the world. Along with the harsh realities of many families’ current situation, is the realization that there is a need for planning, as the consequences of not planning have never felt more real.
So which legal documents should you have in place right now?
1. Healthcare Documents
Advance Health Care Directive, Health Care Power of Attorney, or Health Care Proxy
Like airplane safety videos, it’s important for you to put on your oxygen mask first before taking care of your kids. If you’re not there to take care of them, and have not provided instructions for their care, they’ll be far worse off than waiting a few more seconds for oxygen.
In the legal world, your oxygen mask is your Advance Health Care Directive (CA) or Health Care Proxy (NY). This document names the person who is to make critical health care decisions for you. This is commonly known as your health care agent or your health care proxy. Typically, it’s your spouse, but for those who are unmarried, it can be any trusted adult (sibling, parent, adult child, friend who is a nurse or doctor, etc.). The key is to name someone you trust, and at least one alternative individual, in case your primary proxy is not available to help at that time.
Your Advance Health Care Directive or Health Care Proxy document provides instructions to your health care agent regarding choices like pain medication, life-sustaining support, etc. These are intensely personal and challenging topics to discuss, but if you and your family ever need to rely on this document, you’ll be glad you have these choices in writing.
Do I Need a Living Will?
A Living Will can be a separate document or it can be incorporated into your Advance Health Care Directive or Health Care Proxy. A Living Will goes into more detail about your choices around life-sustaining treatment, and under what circumstances you would want your agent to terminate life support.
How do I create an Advance Health Care Directive or Health Care Proxy?
California and New York both provide free forms that you can complete and sign in front of witnesses (no notarization necessary). Here are the links:
Once you’ve signed the documents, make sure your doctors, nurses, medical offices, and of course, your family, have copies of the signed and witnessed document. It’s important to have your Advance Health Care Directive or Health Care Proxy with you, and on file, if you are receiving medical treatment due to coronavirus or otherwise. If you prefer to include more details in your directive or proxy, then contact our office for assistance.
Now that your oxygen mask is on, let’s talk about your kids.
2. Guardian Nominations for Minor Children
Appointing a Legal Guardian in the Event of Loss of Parents
As a parent, who do you want to take care of your young children if you were no longer able to?
I’ve personally experienced how challenging and arduous the process can be, especially for a grieving family and children. I consider Guardianship Nomination the most important component in your estate plan.
If your child(ren)’s parents are not around, or unable to take care of them, your Guardianship Nomination is the document that tells the court your preferences regarding the care of your children.
This is a tough, personal and emotional decision, but absolutely necessary. It is important, if at all possible, for both parents to agree on the person(s) chosen for the Guardianship Nomination.
Also, it’s HIGHLY recommended that you speak to the potential guardian(s) BEFORE you nominate them, to confirm that they’re on the same page as well.
3. Final Disposition Instructions
Your Funeral and Burial Wishes
Final disposition instructions outline your wishes for funeral and burial services. You may have strong religious, spiritual, or cultural preferences (or requirements), and all of these decisions are sacred. Using this document, you’ll also name the person or people you want to make the arrangements. This is often the same person or people from your Health Care Directive/Proxy.
During this pandemic, final arrangements have become increasingly difficult to carry out, but trust that your family will do your best to carry out your wishes, so be sure to let them know what those wishes are.
4. Durable Power of Attorney
Durable Power of Attorney Authorizing Someone to Handle Financial Decisions
If you have the above components in place, then you can think about your money and property. At a minimum, you’ll want to have a Durable Power of Attorney in place. This is like your Health Care Directive, but for financial decisions. Name your Agent or Attorney-In-Fact (no relation to Attorney-at-Law) and list what types of decisions you would like the Agent to make if/when needed..
California and New York also provide free forms here:
5. Will or Living Trust
Beyond the Durable Power of Attorney, you may consider a Will or Living Trust for your property, or you may have an existing plan in place and you simply want to confirm that everything’s where it should be.
Our experienced estate planning professionals are available to help in a safe, controlled, and expedient way. Call us at (833) RING-SLG or book a free consultation with us here.