With the amount of uncertainty that has arisen from the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, financial and personal security has never been more important for Americans. Currently, the United States has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, with over 500,000 cases and counting. In addition, within the United States, New Jersey has the second-highest number of cases, trailing only New York. In light of the foregoing, it is crucial that, at a minimum, families consult with one another to discuss whether there is a plan in place for dealing with illness and incapacity.
As Estate Planning practitioners, we strongly encourage all individuals over the age of 18 to have, at the very least and even without a looming health threat, the following three estate planning documents: Will, Power of Attorney, and Advance Directive for Healthcare (commonly known as the Living Will). Most individuals think of a Will when they hear the term “estate planning.” And, while a Will is certainly an essential document in and of itself, the two documents that are emerging as absolutely critical in this pandemic are the Power of Attorney and the Advance Directive for Healthcare.
Unlike the Will, which only takes effect after death, these “living” documents will allow someone to handle your banking and financial affairs and make medical decisions if you are quarantined in your home, admitted to the hospital, or become incapacitated. Without these documents in place, your family members or most trusted individuals would need to file a Guardianship proceeding with the Court, which can be an expensive and long process, especially during this pandemic.
A Power of Attorney is a legal document that is used to designate someone (an agent) to carry out your financial affairs and protect your property by acting on your behalf. Your agent can pay bills, write checks, make deposits, sell or purchase a security, and sign tax returns on your behalf. An agent may also need to speak with your employer, financial institutions, accountant, financial advisor, insurance providers, government entities, and other entities on your behalf. A Power of Attorney can allow your financial obligations to proceed uninterrupted in case of illness or incapacity.
An Advance Directive for Healthcare, commonly known as a Living Will or Medical Power of Attorney, is used to designate someone (called “a healthcare representative”) to make decisions about your medical treatment, and to provide specific instructions for healthcare measures, in the event you are unable to make such decisions. Such instructions may include termination of life-sustaining treatment or end-of-life instructions. Without this document, no one may know what your wishes are with respect to your medical treatment. Medical providers would be left to seek the advice of close family members, in which case there could be disagreements amongst family members. In some cases, those who are aware of your wishes may need a Court Order to proceed according to your wishes. An Advance Directive for Healthcare can allow your healthcare representative to make the most difficult decision a person can make for a loved one.
Both of these “living” documents, the Power of Attorney and Healthcare Directive, required proper preparation and execution according to State law. Our Wills, Trusts & Estates team continues to schedule signings to execute these essential legal documents, with protocols in place to keep our clients and personnel safe. From signings outside when weather permits to drive-by signings, we are accommodating our clients while maintaining social distancing and exercising caution.
Laddey, Clark, & Ryan, LLP, remains fully operational during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Please rest assured that our attorneys, paralegals, and staff continue to be available to you and to fulfill your evolving legal, business, and personal needs. Throughout this difficult period, you can expect that the team at Laddey, Clark, & Ryan will continue to answer your emails and calls promptly and be completely available to you, exemplifying the client service and responsiveness we have always been committed to providing.