The outbreak of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has left many people scrambling to prepare for the new realities of quarantine, over-burdened medical systems, and financial stress. While most individuals focus mainly on having enough food and supplies to weather the storm, one critical aspect of truly being prepared often goes ignored: Estate Planning.
As of April 3, 2020, the CDC reports 239,279 confirmed cases of coronavirus across all 50 states, with 5,443 deaths nationwide. Although elderly individuals appear to be at the greatest risk of serious complications, the CDC found that between 14% and 20% of adults between the ages of 20 and 44 were hospitalized for coronavirus. As such, COVID-19 poses a variety of risks to people of all ages and from all walks of life.
In this time of uncertainty, you should consider the following questions:
· If I am hospitalized with complications resulting from coronavirus and am unable to speak or make decisions for myself, who will be able to make medical decisions for me?
· If I am too sick to manage my financial affairs, including paying bills, applying for unemployment benefits, and maintaining my home, is there someone who can manage these things for me?
· How will medical professionals know my wishes regarding the use of artificial life-prolonging measures such as feeding tubes and ventilators?
· Who will get my property if I pass away?
· Can I name someone to be my children’s guardian in the event of my death?
· What will happen to my business if I get sick or pass away?
If you do not have a plan in place to address all of the foregoing issues, now is the time to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney. George Gorman, Esq. of Weisberg & Weisberg, PLLC stands ready to assist clients with formulating an estate plan the covers all relevant areas of concern during this troubled time. Consider the following:
Last Will and Testament
No one likes to think about their own death, and so many people reasonably put off preparing a will for as long as possible. Given the disturbing statistics associated with COVID-19, including a recent report from the World Health Organization that the time between symptom onset and death can be as little as two weeks, time is of the essence in having a will prepared or having your existing will reviewed.
In general, a will enables an individual to set forth their wishes for who is to receive their property upon death. While Virginia has a “default” law that covers situations where someone dies without a will, the default rules may not be consistent with your personal desires. In addition, a will allows you to name one or more executors who will be in charge of administering your estate and, most importantly, making sure that your wishes are fulfilled. Again, while Virginia has default rules about who can administer the estate of someone who dies without a will, the role of executor is a position of great trust and responsibility, and most people prefer to have a say in who will fill that role.
Another important benefit of a will is the ability to designate a guardian of minor children if both parents were to pass away. Designating a guardian in a will can help avoid often costly and contentious Court battles over guardianship and also minimize the risk that children will be placed into foster care or into the hands of the state. Minimizing Court involvement is especially important in this time of government office closures, quarantines, and shutdowns. Naming a trusted friend or relative who is aware of the potential of becoming the guardian of your children is an effective way of creating stability in an otherwise difficult situation.
General Power of Attorney
The risk of COVID-19 infection coupled with economic uncertainty can pose a wide range of problems for someone who is sick but who still needs to pay bills, apply for government benefits, and otherwise continue to manage their financial affairs. While a spouse can often fulfill some of these duties by default, that is not always the case, particularly when couples have chosen to maintain separate finances and accounts. For unmarried individuals, there may be no one who is authorized to take action on their behalf.
A general power of attorney allows you to designate one or more individuals (who can be a spouse, relative, or friend) who will be empowered to take a wide range of actions on your behalf with regard to your financial affairs if you are unable to do so due to illness or self-quarantine. George Gorman, Esq. of Weisberg & Weisberg, PLLC will work with you to prepare an effective power of attorney that will help maintain your financial standing through this difficult time and into the future.
Medical Power of Attorney and Advance Directive
According to recent reports, medical professionals and researchers continue to struggle to identify effective cures, treatments and vaccines for coronavirus. If you are incapacitated, you may not be in a position to consent to or refuse a particular treatment or medication, and such consent may be required in the event the treatment is experimental or risky.
A medical power of attorney enables you to designate one or more persons who can make these important decisions for you, including things like whether to provide or withhold certain treatments, room placement, and choice of treatment facility and doctor. It also minimizes the risk of delays that may occur if medical professionals are required to search for someone with authority to make medical decisions for you.
Many people also have strong feelings about the use of artificial life-prolonging measures, such as feeding and breathing tubes. Some wish for all such measures to be employed, while others wish to simply be allowed to pass away naturally if there is no hope of recovery. Whatever your preference may be, it is important that it is documented so that, if the time comes, there is no uncertainty, confusion, or dispute about your wishes.
An advance directive (also known as a living will) allows you to set forth your decision about this important issue ahead of time and while you are still able to do so. An advance directive will not only ensure that your wishes are followed, but may also minimize the burden on family members who would otherwise have to make this difficult decision for you.
Business Considerations – Succession Planning
Many business owners have fortunately not previously had to face an environment of uncertainty like the one we are experiencing now. While it is necessary and appropriate to focus on immediate concerns like cash flow, payroll, and inventory, it is also critical to formulate a plan for what will happen with your business if you are incapacitated or pass away.
An estate plan that incorporates business succession planning considerations can address many relevant concerns. For example, you can designate one or more individuals to run your business if you are unable to do so, including the performance of routine tasks like signing checks, making deposits and withdrawals, signing contracts, and dealing with vendors, customers and employees. You can also set forth instructions for what is to be done with your business in the event of your passing, which can include, among other things, the sale of the business to a co-owner or the public, or provisions for its continued operation by one or more heirs or other designated persons.
Like all estate planning issues, these are matters that are best addressed before a problem arises. With a wide variety of stresses already being placed on businesses due to the COVID-19 epidemic, a well-formulated business succession plan can mean the difference between a business surviving this difficult time or having to close its doors permanently.
George Gorman, Esq. of Weisberg & Weisberg PLLC is a seasoned attorney with experience handling a wide variety of business matters, including business formation, litigation, contracts, and estate considerations. His breadth of experience with such matters makes him well-suited to advise clients on estate planning issues specific to those who own or operate a business.
Remote Signing and Notarization
Traditionally, wills, powers of attorney and other estate planning documents require in-person meetings to be signed and completed. Due to the highly infectious nature of the coronavirus, Weisberg & Weisberg has made great efforts to employ technology-based alternatives to face-to-face meetings so that it can continue to provide a high level of service to its clients in this troubled time.
For estate planning tasks, this includes the utilization of remote notaries and video-conference technology that allows for the signing of documents in accordance with the requirements of Virginia law without the need for risky office visits. While there may be a desire to put things off until the crisis is over, time is of the essence when it comes to preparing an estate plan in the current environment. George Gorman, Esq. of Weisberg & Weisberg PLLC will work with you to prepare and sign estate planning documents from the safety and comfort of your own home.
Lastly, we understand that this is a time of financial insecurity for many people. To ease the burden, we offer free consultations for estate planning matters. Also, for most estate planning matters, we offer reasonable flat fee arrangements so that our clients do not have to worry about excessive fees if they need to speak with an attorney to have questions answered.
Please contact George Gorman, Esq. of Weisberg & Weisberg today for a free consultation regarding your estate plan.