By Nancy Burner, Esq.
Incapacity and death are usually topics that one attempts to push off to a future date or sweep under the rug. We rationalize — “I am young” or “I am still handling my affairs” or “I will worry about it later.” It is not until we are faced with a lifechanging event that propel us on a path to deal with the situation at hand.
Usually these lifechanging events are individual to the person — a catastrophic health condition, an accident or maybe seeing a close family member or friend going through some event. It is rare that we are faced with a national health crisis that make us all stop and consider this type of planning. In the light of recent events with COVID-19, the world is faced with an epidemic that has many people scrambling to have their affairs in order.
In the uncertainty of becoming incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs, it is more important than ever to have basic advanced directives in place. Anyone over the age of eighteen should have the following documents: Health Care Proxy, Living Will (if desired), HIPAA release form and General Durable Power of Attorney.
The health care proxy is a document that states who you would like to make your medical decisions in the event you are unable to make them for yourself because you have been deemed incapacitated by a doctor. The living will states your wishes regarding the withdrawal of treatments. This document can direct that certain treatments be stopped if they are serving to prolong your life without any reasonable expectation of recovery.
A HIPAA release allows the listed individuals to be able to obtain copies of your medical records. A power of attorney authorizes your agent to control your financial life — including but not limited to banking, pension plans, life insurance, etc. Your agent would step into your shoes and be able to handle all of your financial affairs.
Absent having these documents in place, no one would have the authority to act on your behalf in the event you become incapacitated. If you are hospitalized or quarantined, no one will be able to access your bank accounts on your behalf — pay bills or ask for relief in payments. If you are incapacitated and cannot make your own medical decision, you will not be able to choose your agent.
This is typically where we explain to our clients that this could result in a guardianship court proceeding which is costly and invasive. However, in light of COVID-19, the court system is not even available due to the closure that started on March 17, 2020. Without the proper documents in place and not being able to turn to the court, this could result in a huge delay of anyone acting on your behalf.
As we continue to forge ahead in this worldwide crisis, take the time to speak with your family members and come up with a plan. Estate Planning attorneys in your area are available to explain your options and set up a comprehensive plan to ensure that your loved ones are not scrambling to assist you.
Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.