Recently, United States President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump announced that they tested positive for COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. Due to the fact that they remain in contact with other people at the White House, others have now tested positive for the virus. In a nation impacted by more than 210,000 deaths and millions of infections, it is more important than ever to ensure that estate planning documents are up to date. According to the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys in “Staying Current is Especially Important in the Pandemic,” key documents to keep in mind include the health care power of attorney, advance directive, and HIPAA power of attorney.
Breaking Down Key Estate Planning Documents
Health Care Power of Attorney
When filling out the health care power of attorney, you are required to appoint an “agent” to make health decisions on your behalf in case you are in a condition that renders you unable to do so yourself. In this document, you may also appoint a successor agent in the event that your primary agent is unavailable or unable to fill this role when the time comes. Additional successor agents can be appointed as well — an option that is very valuable amid a pandemic. The fact that the president and first lady both tested positive for coronavirus demonstrates this, as it is not beyond the realm of possibility that your primary agent will succumb to the same illness. Thus, the simple act of naming multiple successors from different households increases the chances that one of your agents will be able to act on your behalf.
Often combined in the same document as the health care power of attorney, the advance directive is intended to express any wishes you have in regards to your end-of-life decisions. If you do not clearly express your wishes in this document, the law requires that you must be kept alive at all costs. This is true even if you have no reasonable chance of recovery — no matter if keeping you alive would only prolong your suffering. Advance directives are also referred to as “living wills.”
HIPAA Power of Attorney
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that requires health providers to keep your health information confidential. In many cases, HIPAA is beneficial to patients; in other cases, patients may desire others to have access to their protected health information. The HIPAA power of attorney grants anyone you wish access to this data. In fact, without granting this power to anyone, your loved ones might not even be informed if you are committed to the ICU with coronavirus.
Some examples of individuals a person may designate in their HIPAA power of attorney include health agents and fiduciaries. If informed of your health information, health agents can make well-informed decisions related to your health care, while fiduciaries under a financial power of attorney (or the successor trustee of your trust) will be able to step in to fulfill their duty of managing your financial affairs.
The Coronavirus Pandemic’s Effects on Estate Planning
While it is important that you have each of these three documents, it is even more important to update them regularly during the coronavirus pandemic.
Unfortunately, the nature of COVID-19 means that more than one person in a family and/or locality is liable to infection. Thus, if one of your documents fails to designate a living successor, huge delays in granting consent for various treatments and implementing end-of-life decisions may occur. Therefore, it is wise to designate your spouse first, then an adult child, then your siblings, and so on. It can be hugely beneficial to name successors outside of your household, especially if they are not in the same locality as you.
This global pandemic has been difficult for all of us. Public health precautions, such as proper hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing a mask can help keep us safe. Keeping your estate planning documents up to date can go a long way to ensure that, if public health precautions are unsuccessful, your loved ones can help you through this widespread illness.
About the Author
Attorney Randall “Randy” Holmgren of Pearson Butler has assisted over a thousand clients in planning their estates. He uses asset-protection strategies to help clients safeguard their estates from lawsuits and designs living trusts to prevent family conflict regarding a loved one’s estate when the time comes. Additionally, he has conducted hundreds of estate planning workshops, seminars, lectures, and conventions. His work for our firm’s clients and the public has earned him recognition as an AV-rated attorney from Martindale-Hubbell®, a 10.0 rating from Avvo and Utah Business Magazine’s Legal Elite, and he is proud to work alongside other award-winning lawyers at Pearson Butler.
Contact Attorney Holmgren and the legal team at Pearson Butler at (800) 265-2314.