Three Documents You Need During a Coronavirus Pandemic

Three Documents You Need…

The coronavirus pandemic that is encircling the globe caught most people by surprise. We haven’t experienced an outbreak like this in a century. Most people are scrambling to respond to the pandemic on a number of fronts: purchasing up on cleaning supplies and food, securing masks and gloves, checking in on loved ones, making plans to protect their businesses.

There’s something else you should be doing to prepare, and while it may not feel as essential as stocking the pantry, it could be critical to your well-being and that of your family: making sure you have powers of attorney in place in the event you fall ill.

The stories coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic are heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. People who were in great health a few weeks ago are suddenly critically ill, unresponsive, or worse. Usually, when someone becomes suddenly and gravely ill, their loved ones can be with them at the hospital, or moving freely from place to place, tending to the patient’s needs and obligations. This virus is especially cruel, because not only does it cause serious illness, it has separated loved ones and kept family members from assisting hospitalized patients.

Aside from the emotional toll of this kind of separation, there is another, equally serious outcome. When patients are unable to communicate for themselves or attend to their finances, they may recover to find themselves in dire financial straits.

Powers of Attorney and Other Essential Planning Documents

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to put in place protections in the event you should become incapacitated. Powers of attorney aren’t just needed in a pandemic; you would want someone with the power to act on your behalf if you were in an accident, suffered a stroke, or developed dementia. It is just that the COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the fact that you can go from perfectly healthy to incapacitated in a week.

What documents do you need, and what do they do? Here’s a list of essentials:

Durable Financial Power of Attorney

Who would manage your financial affairs if you couldn’t? What would happen if your bills didn’t get paid? A financial power of attorney is a document that allows you (the principal) to appoint someone you trust (an agent) to manage your finances on your behalf. “Durable” means this power continues even if you become ill (which is when you would need it most).

The power you grant to your agent can be as narrow or broad as you wish, and you can make the power “springing,” meaning that it doesn’t take effect until you are no longer able to act on your own behalf.

Without a durable power of attorney, your family would need to go to court to get the authority to manage your finances. That would be stressful enough during ordinary times, and much more so now that travel and access to courts may be limited.

Patient Advocate Designation

A Patient Advocate Designation (PAD) is also known as a medical power of attorney, a durable power of attorney for health care, or advance medical directive. Like a financial power of attorney, it allows someone you trust (your advocate or agent) to make medical decisions for you if you are no longer able to make them for yourself.

A Patient Advocate Designation (PAD) is also known as a medical power of attorney, a durable power of attorney for health care, or advance medical directive. Like a financial power of attorney, it allows someone you trust (your advocate or agent) to make medical decisions for you if you are no longer able to make them for yourself.

As with a financial power of attorney, you can customize a PAD. It may authorize your advocate to decide what types of medical care you will receive, up to and including the decisions to withdraw life support if you cannot be cured, or to donate your organs.

A patient advocate designation is different from a living will. A living will can express what types of medical care you do and do not want, but it is not legally binding. It can be used as guidance for your advocate. If you do not have a living will, you should discuss your preferences with your advocate. It is best to express those wishes in writing, too; in a moment of stress, your advocate may not remember what you have requested, or may be unwilling to withdraw care that you would not want.

HIPAA Authorization

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA, protects the privacy of your medical information. But if you want certain loved ones or family members to have access to your medical file (or parts of it), you will need to sign a HIPAA authorization. Otherwise, your loved ones may experience unnecessary frustration trying to get information about your condition.

You can designate your patient advocate as your personal representative for purposes of HIPAA in your PAD, but you should also execute a separate HIPAA authorization.

If you have realized that you are missing one or more of these essential documents in your estate planning toolkit, there is no time like the present to update your planning. We certainly hope you won’t find yourself facing COVID-19, or any other medical emergency. But we believe that you will sleep better at night knowing that, whatever happens, someone will be able to manage your essential business if you cannot. We invite you to contact our law office with any questions you have about updating your planning.

Categories: Estate Planning

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