The growing outbreak of coronavirus cases in the United States has undoubtedly caused widespread anxiety for many Americans who must now quickly adapt to drastic changes in their everyday lives, while also coping with legitimate concerns that they or their loved ones may become affected by the virus. This anxiety has caused many Americans to flock to online companies offering “do-it-yourself” estate planning products.
While fear may prove effective in prompting us to act, it is generally inadvisable to base important decisions on emotions such as fear.
The experienced professionals at Catania, Mahon & Rider remain poised and ready to guide you through this uncertain and unprecedented time with the level of sensitivity and competence you’ve come to expect, offering true peace of mind in the process. We’ve compiled this article to explain some of the most common estate planning documents, and to highlight some questions you may want to ask yourself as you consider your own situation.
Last Will and Testament
Do you have a valid Will in place? If so, does it accurately reflect your current wishes?
While do-it-yourself, online wills may temporarily ease feelings of anxiety in times of crisis, you will find no shortage of legal professionals who caution against their use. That’s because each state has its own strict requirements that must be adhered to before the courts will recognize your Will as being valid. By attempting to create these documents without the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney, you run the risk that you will miss one or more of these crucial requirements, and that your Will won’t be legally enforceable.
If you do not have a valid Will, your assets will be distributed according to a predetermined plan prescribed by the legislature. This plan can differ markedly from your wishes, so it’s critical to seek help from experienced estate planning attorneys to ensure your individual circumstances and goals are taken into account.
Last week most New York courts indefinitely suspended proceedings and new filings for all matters except those the courts have deemed “essential.” In light of ongoing uncertainty, it may be appropriate for you to create a Revocable Trust for your assets. Assets that are placed into a Revocable Trust generally do not require any court involvement before being distributed to your beneficiaries (i.e. these assets “avoid probate”). Revocable Trusts also feature increased flexibility that may prove crucial in a time when we are witnessing unprecedented levels of market volatility.
Additionally, your Revocable Trust can be freely amended or revoked during your lifetime to easily account for any changes that life may bring.
The estate planning attorneys at Catania, Mahon & Rider remain available to set up your Revocable Trust, and ensure that it is properly funded.
Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies and Living Wills
Your Power of Attorney authorizes another person to step into your shoes and handle your financial affairs. The Power of Attorney is a key document when it comes to planning for incapacity, and may prove crucial if you or one of your loved ones loses the ability to make financial decisions for themselves due to complications related to COVID-19. The Power of Attorney is especially important if you have an ongoing business that must remain operational in your absence, or for the elderly members of our community who often rely on others to meet their daily needs.
Your Health Care Proxy is a key planning document which appoints someone (an agent) to make medical decisions for you if you become unable to do so yourself. It can also authorize your agent to communicate freely with your healthcare professionals and obtain crucial information in a time of need.
You Living Will is a separate healthcare document which informs your agent that you do not want to receive certain life-saving treatment under certain limited circumstances. This document has become particularly relevant during the coronavirus pandemic because most New York Living Wills specifically list “mechanical or artificial respiratory support” as a treatment that should be withheld if the patient becomes permanently unconscious or is unlikely to recover.
Since most patients would certainly not want crucial life-saving ventilator treatment withheld from them during this time, your current Living Will may not accurately represent your true wishes in this unprecedented and unanticipated situation.
Designation of Standby Guardian
In general, a court proceeding is required to appoint a guardian while the children’s parents are alive. However, parents in New York State have the ability to designate a “standby guardian,” in writing, who can immediately step in to care for minor children, as long as the standby guardian seeks formal court designation within 60 days. This document may prove crucial during the ongoing coronavirus crisis if your child ends up needing medical treatment and you are unable to make medical decisions on his or her behalf.
The estate planning attorneys at Catania, Mahon & Rider have over 30 years of combined experience crafting effective, custom estate plans for our valued clients.
Now more than ever, let our experience be your guide.
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