Around the world, lives continue to be affected by the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Given my work with estate planning clients, I am moved by the challenges faced by those who cannot see their loved ones in the final moments of their lives. This may be due to visitation restrictions, a lack of protective equipment, or delayed funerals and celebrations of life. There are truly many things outside of our control right now.
One of the things that is within your control is to be prepared, legally, should you contract the virus. Following are four steps you can take now to create a Simple Estate Plan should you or a loved one become ill and are unable to make health-related decisions or manage financial affairs.
1. MINNESOTA SHORT FORM POWER OF ATTORNEY
One of the most important documents in your estate plan is the Minnesota Short Form Power of Attorney. This document gives a trusted individual, known as an attorney-in-fact or agent, the ability to manage your financial affairs when you are unable. For instance, the attorney-in-fact may pay your bills, deposit cash or checks, convey real estate, transfer financial accounts, buy and sell stocks, sign your tax returns and perform other financial or legal obligations. Powers of Attorney can only be used by your attorney-in-fact while you are alive.
We strongly encourage our clients to appoint an attorney-in-fact who lives in the state of Minnesota. Ideally, this will be a spouse, partner, parent or sibling who you trust completely. If possible, you should also have a secondary attorney-in-fact. Without a power of attorney in place, your loved ones may be forced to go through an expensive, drawn out process in District Court to have a conservator or guardian appointed to make legal decisions for you while you are incapacitated.
2. MINNESOTA HEALTH CARE DIRECTIVE
Unfortunately, many people who contract COVID-19 are unable to communicate important health care decisions like consenting to testing, different types of medical care and treatments and in some cases, end-of-life choices.
If you are over the age of 18, a Minnesota Health Care Directive also allows a trusted loved one to make health care decisions on your behalf if you cannot make them yourself. When you complete a Health Care Directive, you may also place limitations on the decisions that can be made on your behalf, such as not authorizing life support.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act into federal law. While this was put into place to protect the privacy of our health information, it can cause problems when an individual cannot consent to the release of their medical information.
A Minnesota Health Care Directive allows a hospital to release your medical records to your agent to ensure your family has access to all the medical information required by them to make the best health care decision for you.
By creating a Health Care Directive, you are saving your loved ones from the burden of not knowing what your wishes are regarding important medical treatment decisions and even end-of-life choices. If you have never discussed different medical treatment scenarios or end-of-life wishes with your family, the decisions required by a spouse or family member can be incredibly difficult and emotional without a Health Care Directive.
3. MINNESOTA LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
Without a Last Will and Testament, you are considered by the State of Minnesota to have died Intestate and the State will appoint an executor to distribute your probate assets at the time of your death. If you die with minor children and without a surviving spouse, the Court will also decide the legal guardian of your minor children. A Last Will and Testament is also used to specify where your assets are to be distributed at the time of your death. This is important to avoid conflict with family members who may feel they are entitled to certain assets of your estate after your die. A Last Will and Testament also allows you to do estate tax planning that you cannot otherwise do without a Will or a Trust.
4. MINNESOTA REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST
Revocable Living Trusts are legal documents separate from a Last Will and Testament although a Trust usually works together with your Will to make sure your wishes are carried out. Revocable Living Trusts are normally used, in part, to avoid a probate proceeding. By transferring ownership of your assets such as real estate or other non-qualified financial accounts to your revocable Living Trust, a probate proceeding is no longer required to transfer title to your beneficiaries, since the transfer of assets to the trust was completed by you while you were alive. This is commonly referred to as funding your trust.
SCHEDULE YOUR FREE COMPLIMENTARY CONSULTATION TODAY
If you have questions or need help with your estate planning during this unprecedented time, you don’t have to do it alone. Feel free to give us a call and we can set up a complimentary consultation about your specific needs. Stay safe, stay healthy!