Reviewing One’s Estate Plan in the Wake of COVID-19

Published 07 April 2020 by McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman Co., LPA

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused many individuals to review estate plans. A review should include one’s will, trust, financial power of attorney, advanced directives and beneficiary designations to confirm that existing documents are appropriate and consistent with one’s intentions. Equally as important is to review those named as an agent, fiduciary, or beneficiary to confirm those designations are consistent with one’s wishes. The information below is a brief overview of considerations to contemplate as part of this review.

Wills
Wills are legal documents that govern the disposition of one’s property at death. The review of one’s will should include ensuring that the named beneficiaries are appropriate. Also, it is important to review whether the executor named in the will is the proper person to administer the estate.

Trusts
If a trust is part of the estate plan, that document should be reviewed to confirm the beneficiaries named in the trust, as well as the designated trustee, is appropriate.

Financial Powers of Attorney
Perhaps the most important document to review is one’s financial power of attorney. This document names the agent to act and make the property and financial decisions on one’s behalf while the principal is living. The common form of a financial power of attorney is the durable financial power of attorney. The durable financial power of attorney means that the designated agent continues to have authority to act for and on one’s behalf even if the principal becomes disabled. That is extremely important in these trying times.

Advanced Directives
Advanced directives are documents that designate health care decision-makers and choices regarding life-sustaining treatment. There are two forms of advance directives in Ohio, the health care power of attorney and the living will declaration. Similar to a financial power of attorney, the health care power of attorney designates an agent to make health care decisions if the principal is unable to do so. Furthermore, in a health care power of attorney the principal may leave specific instructions regarding health care treatment.

The living will declaration is a statement of one’s wishes regarding life-sustaining treatment when a principal is in a terminal condition or permanently unconscious state.

It is important to review these documents as well to ensure that the agents named are proper and if special instructions were added to prior documents that those special instructions continue to be relevant.

Beneficiary Designations
Certain assets pass by way of beneficiary designations that permit those assets to be transferred to identified individuals. Examples include retirement plan benefits, IRAs, life insurance, annuities, deferred compensation or other forms of contractual arrangements and similar financial accounts. A review should include determining that the beneficiaries named are appropriate, including the naming of contingent beneficiaries.

Conclusion
In these times it is paramount for individuals to review one’s estate planning documents to confirm that the documents are current and reflective of one’s current intentions. If your specific situation or intentions are not captured in your existing documents, changes should be made promptly. If you do not have documents addressing one or more of these important issues the time to act is now.
If you have questions, regarding your existing estate planning documents or whether you should prepare one or more of the identified documents, please call one of the estate planning attorneys at McCarthy Lebit at (216) 696-1422.