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Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst: Estate Planning During COVID-19

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die tomorrow.”

During these uncertain times, Witkes Law Firm remains optimistic about the future of our country, we pray that those affected by the pandemic recover and achieve comfort quickly.

Many people have reached out to us with the desire to get their affairs in order. While we would like to remind you that COVID-19 mainly presents as mild symptoms, we understand that people in our community want to be prepared. As estate planning attorneys in Ohio, we wanted to provide an overview of some estate planning tools that can help you feel peace of mind. An estate plan is not meant to be frightening, it is meant to bring you comfort with the knowledge that the burden of making financial and health decisions will never fall on an unprepared family. It is imperative to have an estate plan, and now that we are all spending much of our time indoors, you can take this opportunity to dedicate the proper headspace, and time to get your affairs in order. These are the types of estate planning services that you should consider arranging for your family.

It can be confusing where to begin your estate, so allow us to clarify.

If you are single, do not have children, and are at the beginning of establishing yourself financially, you should begin your estate as such.

1. Health Care Power Of Attorney

In short, this legal document appoints someone in your life to have the power to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are unable or incapacitated. If you are a legal adult, 18+, without a health care power of attorney, your family members will have to request that the probate court appoint a guardian to be able to make these decisions.

Witkes Law Firm would recommend you choose a dependable adult that you trust unequivocally. You should also choose a back-up HPOA in the event your main HPOA is unavailable.

2. Financial Power of Attorney

In everyday language, this is a legal document that appoints someone to have the power to make decisions about your assets and finances if you die or are incapacitated. Without a Financial Power of Attorney, there would be no immediate person with the legal ability to act on your behalf if need be. Your family members would be required to request the probate court to appoint a guardian to have these powers. Probate is expensive and time-consuming.

This agent of your choosing has the ability to sell or purchase assets, write checks, make deposits, pay bills and sign tax returns.

Witkes Law Firm would suggest you choose a competent, and deeply responsible adult, that you trust wholeheartedly to have your best interest in mind. You should also choose a back-up FPOA in the event your primary FPOA is unavailable.

3. Living Will (Advance Health Care Directive)

While a gruesome subject, a living will gives you the ability to indicate the treatment you would like to receive at the end of your life. In harsh terms, would you, or would you not want family members to pull the plug if you wouldn’t survive without life support. If you become terminally ill, or permanently unconscious would you want to be put, or kept on life support.

Without a living will, this emotional and heart wrenching decision is left for your family member to have to make. A living will clarifies your wishes and alleviates that pain from your family’s shoulders.

4. HIPAA Waiver

Sometimes your Living Will will contain language that gives your Health Care Power of Attorney the ability to access your medical records. Unfortunately, some hospitals and medical facilities also require a stand- alone HIPAA waiver. This back-up document ensures your family has access to your medical information and can speak about your private information with your doctors in the event of a medical emergency that disables your capacity.

If you have a spouse, children, and have finances you would want to delineate, you should continue your estate planning with the following.

5. Last Will And Testament

This legal document gives you the ability to distribute your property and assets to your loved ones when you die. A Will should also appoint a legal guardian to take care of minor children. If you do not have a will, the Court will have to decide who is the best person to raise your children. This, sensitive decision, is certainly not something any individual would want in the hands of the court. It is, therefore, extremely important to have a Last Will and Testament.

A Will also allows you to appoint an Executor for your Will. An executor oversees the transfer of your assets according to your wishes. Without a will there is no direction as to how those assets will pass. The distribution of your assets will be handled by your state, and the court will decide on an executor for your estate. This often results in turmoil, and lengthy legal battles even in families with modest finances to delineate.

If you have cultivated a large financial portfolio, and have accumulated an extensive amount of wealth, this last portion of an estate is especially for you.

6. Living Trust

Wealthy people often desire a Living Trust because a trust lends privacy to your estate by avoiding the need for probate court, a public process. This legal contract, also called a Revocable Living Trust, is made to create a separate entity to hold your assets. You can change it at any time. What is especially interesting about a Living Trust is you can set it up to continue on after you die. While alive you can be the trustee, and in the event you are unable to manage your estate this document appoints a successor trustee who will manage your affairs without the involvement of the court. A living trust allows the deceased to have more specific control over the allocation of their assets. For example, you could specify that your children don’t receive their inheritance until a certain age, or split up their inheritance over time. This would ensure that they don’t blow through their inheritance, and gives an added layer of protection that reduces the ability of creditors, and others, to seize their inheritance from them.

While there are several websites that claim to draft many of the above documents, we at Witkes Law Firm want to caution you that estate planning is quite complex, and mistakes can have dire consequences. As estate planning attorneys based in Cleveland, Ohio our doors are open for anyone that wants to begin planning their future. May God bless our great country to heal quickly from this pandemic, and may all those affected have a quick and easy recovery. A special thank you to all health care heroes on the front lines fighting this pandemic, WLF salutes your continued bravery.

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