Living Wills and Health Care Proxy Planning, Amid COVID-19 Crisis

As COVID-19 looms, ensure loved ones understand your health care proxy wishes.

The U.S. is currently on the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus, experiencing the heaviest losses in the world. It’s impossible to predict what kind of long-term impact this virus will have, both in terms of its effects on our society and healthcare, as well as its sheer death toll.

However, current numbers have already eclipsed 30,000 dead and experts are warning that we should expect a final total of 100,000 or more before a vaccine is approved. These statistics account for about a quarter of the losses experienced during World War II, and almost twice as many losses as during the Vietnam War. There’s no question that this virus will be this generation’s 9/11, or Pearl Harbor.

But beyond its long-term impact, most of us are preoccupied with its current short-term effects. While not as deadly as some of the other viral outbreaks the world has had to deal with in recent decades, what sets COVID-19 apart? The rate at which it is spreading, coupled with its long incubation period, allows it to silently infect others through carriers with mild to no symptoms.

Although most people are at low risk of experiencing more than mild complications, there are many among us with pre-existing conditions and factors that increase the risk of death, including old age. Doctors are urging patients to not only double down on measures to mitigate the spread of the virus and relieve a pressured healthcare system, but also to prepare for the possibility of an infection, and eventual death.


COVID-19 Is a Developing Crisis

Despite lockdowns and emergency quarantine protocols in major cities and countries throughout the globe, the virus has claimed roughly 150,000 lives thus far. And we are still in the beginning stages of the pandemic. Experts are working around the clock to study the efficacy of existing medicines and develop new solutions to combat the spread and mortality rates of COVID-19, but we do have a long way to go.

For many of us, COVID-19 is a solemn yet appropriate time to talk to loved ones about health care proxy directives and estate planning basics. These are simple legal documents that allow a person to detail who will be given the ability to make important healthcare decisions in their name, as well as sign off on certain lifesaving measures if they are deemed too invasive or wasteful.

While lifesaving measures can work, many doctors urge patients and their loved ones to reconsider them, because most of the time they are not giving back life, but simply prolonging death (at the expense of time and resources currently in critical demand, as well).

Those who are currently facing the burden of chronic illness are specifically urged to learn more about prolonged life support, and reconsider it on the basis of the massive impact it will have on quality of life and potential survival after the virus has passed.

These are difficult conversations to have, but they can save you and your family a lot of grief and hardship by clearing up any concerns and uncertainties, should the time come, and should the unthinkable occur. We need to prepare ourselves accordingly and speak with our loved ones about death in an earnest way.


Health Care Proxy Planning for the Unthinkable

Estate plans and health care proxy directives need not be complicated or prohibitively expensive. These are not exclusive to the privileged but can often be deployed and utilized in times of crisis to prepare oneself and one’s family and avoid the grief that comes with uncertainty.

    • A simple last will and testament can ensure that you specify who is to care for your minor children, and how you wish to split your belongings.
    • A health care proxy named through a durable power of attorney or similar documents can ensure that certain financial and healthcare decisions will be made should you be hospitalized and incapacitated, so bills are paid, finances are managed, and any decisions regarding your health are made by someone of your choosing.

An experienced estate planning professional can meet your needs and budget and ensure that your interests and the interests of your family are properly protected during these times. And while it may be tempting to rely on Internet tutorials and free resources for estate plan drafting and health care proxy planning, but the law does not tolerate even the simplest of clerical errors.

Most legal documents are drafted to be as universally applicable as possible, and as such, are not appropriate for every state or county. They also try not to take into consideration any factors or circumstances that might make your case unique, in order to avoid specificity. Some are too specific in a direction that would be wholly unnecessary for what you need. These mistakes can be incredibly costly, taking far more time, stress, and money to reverse than you might have saved by going DIY.


Living Wills and Trusts

Estate planning may be more relevant than now, as many of us are confronted with the possibility of leaving everything behind for our families. But estate plans are not drafted haphazardly. There are many different tools used by attorneys to help clients better prepare themselves and their families for their passing.

    • Trusts, for example, are very powerful estate planning entities that hold a variety of assets and possessions “in trust” for one or more beneficiaries, to be distributed by an assigned trustee after your death (or while you are permanently incapacitated). Anything within a trust also bypasses probate, as it is “in trust” rather than being in your possession.

Unlike a will, a trust goes into effect as soon as it is signed, thereby optionally removing your ownership over a property or asset, and thus limiting the size of your estate (for tax purposes and etc). Trusts also allow a far greater degree of flexibility and planning than wills. However, because they go into effect immediately, they are usually more expensive to draft and manage, and are most useful in complex estates where a will is not enough to untangle certain issues of ownership.

    • Living wills, on the other hand, is neither a will nor a trust. It is an advance care directive that allows you to specify what procedures you would like to preclude in your end-of-life care, should you be unable to confirm or protest in the moment. Living wills may be particularly important for patients facing greater risk of infection and complications, some of which may result in severe drops in quality of life after the fact.

A simple and smart estate plan is practical for many people. Even single students can take advantage of certain documents to prepare for important healthcare decisions, and young married (and particularly unmarried) families must consider setting up plans to ensure that their children are taken care of, and their belongings are properly distributed.


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