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COVID-19 Estate Planning: What Documents are Essential?

By: Gregory Herman-Giddens, Esquire

An estate plan is an essential consideration for all individuals, no matter your age or situation. Even a basic estate plan can help to provide certainty for various scenarios in the event that you become incapacitated or upon your death, including:

  • having a Designation of Health Care Surrogate and Living Will means there is a much greater chance that your treatment wishes will be respected in the event of a serious illness (e.g, in the use of a ventilator for COVID-19 patients);
  • controlling the management of your property and finances during your lifetime, particularly if you become incapacitated;
  • ensuring that upon your death your property is distributed to whom, when, and how you want it to be, at a minimum of time, trouble and expense; and
  • ensuring that your family members or other desired individuals have the ability to make medical decisions for you and consult with doctors regarding your health if you become incapacitated.

Estate Plan Documents

Most basic estate plans should include the following documents:

  • Will: Allows you to designate how you want your estate to be distributed upon your death and who you want to be responsible for administering your estate. Parents can designate a guardian for minor children in the event that both legal parents die or become incapacitated. If you die without a valid will, property will pass to your heirs as determined by Florida law, who might not be the same people you would want to inherit your estate.
  • For most of our clients, a Revocable Living Trust is recommended in addition to a Will in order to avoid the cost and delay of probate and maintain privacy as to how and to whom the estate is divvied up.
  • Durable Power of Attorney: Allows you to designate someone to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf if you are unable to act for yourself, usually avoiding the necessity of a court incompetency and guardianship proceeding.
  • Designation of Health Care Surrogate: Allows you to designate someone to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and cannot make or communicate your own decisions.
  • Living Will: Allows you to express your own desires regarding withholding or withdrawing life-prolonging measures in end-of-life situations.
  • HIPAA Authorization (Authorization for Release of Protected Health Information): Provides authorization for named individuals to receive your health care information in the event that you are incapacitated and thus unable to provide such authorization at that time.

Once these documents are in place, maintaining your estate plan through periodic review is crucial to ensure that your plan stays up-to-date with the law, and reflects changes that occur throughout your lifetime. Such changes can include moving to another state, birth of a child or grandchild, death or disability of a family member, and substantial inheritance.

If you should need assistance with your estate plan, please feel free to contact your Henderson Franklin estate planning lawyer. I may be reached at 239-344-1240 or by email at gregory.herman-giddens@henlaw.com