Is a Pandemic a Good Time to Make End-of-Life Decisions?

Not many of us expect to contract the coronavirus, or if we do, to die from it. However, the numbers show some of us will contract COVID-19 and not survive. If you haven’t already, you should make sure you’ve planned for the possibility with advance directives like a will, power of attorney or other estate planning moves.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in the article “We’re in a pandemic. This is a good time to plan your estate and make end-of-life choices” says that estate planning is easy to postpone because we don’t want to think about it.

If you die without a will, state law may control who gets your estate assets. Property that is not otherwise designated will pass by some probate avoidance means. You might not think highly of the family members who are in line to inherit under the statutes, especially with a non-traditional family structure. This could include people, such as the woman who raised you like her own child or a long-term partner whom you never married.

In addition to how your property is distributed, a person who’s been caring for a minor and wants to be able to direct or influence who will take over the responsibilities needs to add this to her estate planning.

It’s best to consult an experienced estate planning attorney. You must sign the will in front of two witnesses, unrelated by blood or marriage, who must also sign.

At this time of social distancing, a difficult task in completing a will or other estate planning document is finding witnesses and having them witness safely. States are getting creative. Some states now have authorized virtual notarizations. An old school way to get this accomplished, is to have your two neighbors watch you sign through your screen door, then sign after you hand it outside, before they hand it back to you.

Some law firms are also offering “drive-by signings,” where people can stay in their car and sign with the window down as the law firm staff witness. They then wait while everything gets notarized and copied and a packet is prepared to give back through the car window.

It’s also a great time to complete an advance directive. This is your instructions to hospital staff about what kind of care you want — or don’t want — if you become unable to communicate those wishes while hospitalized. Most hospitals ask patients if they have one. Like a will, an advanced directive can be changed or revoked at a later time, if the maker remains of sound mind.

The person you designate can’t substitute their judgment for yours or decide what’s in your best interest. They must carry out your wishes. Therefore, select a person you trust and to whom you’ve clearly communicated those wishes.

About the author

Bob Brumfield

Attorney Bob Brumfield has been practicing law since 1984 and regularly receives the “Top Lawyers in California” award as well as the “Client Distinction” and “Client Champion” awards from Martindale-Hubbell.

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