We are living in a strange, unprecedented time. For weeks now, the stock market has been falling, and there is a very real fear that a recession is on the horizon. As I am writing this blog post, it is Day 1 of the San Francisco Bay Area's "shelter in place" order. Businesses are temporarily closing, people are working from home (as best they can with children at home), life is slowing down dramatically. Since many of my clients are part of the medically vulnerable population, my office protocol has recently changed (more about that below).
The "shelter in place" order has sparked fear and angst among my clients, family and friends. Many are seeking to get their estate planning affairs in order in case something more tragic happens to them or a loved one. And because COVID-19 can be spread so easily, it's not beyond people's minds that one or more of their family members may be affected. So, what should you do?
For those over Age 65 or Medically Vulnerable--You Need a Plan Immediately
Two days ago, California's Governor Gavin Newson strongly recommended that those over age 65 or those most vulnerable to the illness stay home and practice self-isolation. We know from the news that the older population and those who are medically vulnerable are at a greater risk of suffering complications from this virus, so it's imperative that you heed those warnings.
I'm sure many of these individuals in this age group are thinking "What would happen to me, my family, my estate, if I got it?" If you fall ill, will your financial affairs be managed by someone who has legal authority to help you? If not, then you need to consider a financial power of attorney. In the event of your incapacity or a lengthy hospital stay, you should have a financial power of attorney authorizing someone to manage your financial affairs (e.g., pay your bills, file your tax returns, access your bank accounts, manage your retirement plans, etc.). Without this document, then a conservatorship proceeding likely will need to be opened. Many estate planners call a conservatorship proceeding "a living probate" because it follows many of the same characteristics as a formal probate after someone dies (i.e., it's time consuming, expensive and very public).
Next, you'll want to have an advance health care directive where you nominate an agent to make medical decisions for you in the event you cannot make those yourself. In the directive, you can also specify what sort of medical treatments you prefer. Along with the health care directive, you will want to make sure you have a HIPAA Authorization giving your medical provider the names of those individuals who may access your medical information. This is crucial because the people you think would be able to have this information will not be able to access it if you don't have this document. For example, your spouse will not be able to access your records unless he/she is on the HIPAA Authorizing document.
For those who would like to direct the disposition of their estate, you will want to speak with an attorney about whether a Will or Revocable Living Trust is best given your current financial situation. There are pros and cons to each plan, so it's important to speak with an attorney to see what plan is right for you.
If You're Younger--Now Is Not The Time To Wait
While younger individuals are not suffering significant symptoms of the virus, those who are immunocompromised or have underlying medical issues could suffer complications. It's important that you get prepared, as well. This is especially true if you have a young family with children. You will want to ensure you have guardianship nominations in place if you and/or your spouse or partner are unable to care for your children.
So, what should you do now? First, you shouldn't panic. Stress is not good for your health. What you should do is speak with your family about taking steps to get your financial house in order. Next, you should find a trusted estate planning advisor who can help you prepare the necessary documents. We are very skilled at helping individuals and families navigate this path, even under stressful situations. Contact us today.
New Office Protocol
Our office will be taking the following measures in recognition that our client base consists largely of individuals who are in the “high risk” category for complications from COVID-19.
- All consultations and appointments will be conducted by phone and/or video conference call unless your appointment requires your wet-ink signature. Appointments involving signatures will continue to be held as “in-office” appointments. Signing appointments will likely be conducted in the parking lot with you sitting in your car. Signature pages and pens (which you will keep) will be brought out to you. This will allow us to assist you without a significant risk to your health.
- If you or anyone in your household has experienced any cold or flu like symptoms within the last 72 hours, we request that you reschedule any “in-office” signing appointments and not come to our office.
- We will have hand sanitizer available. Please sanitize your hands upon meeting with any of our staff.
- We will continue to disinfect tables and chairs with Clorox wipes before and after appointments to help reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.
- We will refrain from hand shaking and will be actively practicing social distancing as much as possible.
We realize that these measures may seem extreme under the current situation and may cause some inconveniences. However, the vast majority of our clients are over the age of 60, which is a group that faces greater risks with viral infections. Further, we also have many clients with other underlying medical conditions whom fall in to the “very high risk” category of exposure. Therefore, we will err on the side of some minor inconvenience for the sake of safety for our higher risk clients.
We appreciate your cooperation and understanding. We hope this situation will pass and resolve itself quickly so we can return to normal operations. Thank you for helping us flatten the curve.