If we’re honest, most of us have spent some time in the last few weeks thinking about mortality—our own and that of our loved ones. It’s not surprising given the fact that we’re living through a pandemic that has caused unprecedented disruptions to our daily lives. We’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty, which can be scary.
Being prepared is one of the most effective ways to alleviate anxiety caused by uncertainty.
While none of us can hope to fully control the current situation, there are things each of us can do to help ensure that we have fewer things to worry about in case of dire emergency.
Getting key legal documents in place is one way to bring yourself some much needed peace of mind. Here are the three most important estate planning documents and why they are important at any age.
Power of Attorney (POA)
A power of attorney (POA) is a document that authorizes a designated “agent” to act on your behalf if you are unable to do so. A POA can be used if you are either physically or mentally incapable of handling certain affairs. This can be due to something simple like being out of the country, or something more complicated like an illness or injury.
The designated agent may have general or specific powers, depending on the type of POA. Typically, agents are empowered to handle things like finances, business transactions, making gifts, hiring professionals to help with related activities, and so forth.
One of the most critical decisions with a POA is choosing the right person to be the agent. Since this person will be responsible for handling certain legal, business, and financial affairs, it’s important to choose someone who is not only unquestioningly trustworthy, but also who has some experience and expertise in the areas they will be handling.
Health Care Directive
Also known in Connecticut as a “living will,” a health care directive is an advance directive that documents your wishes about your health care, in case you are unable to convey them yourself. This document only goes into effect in cases where the presiding doctor certifies that the patient either has a terminal illness or is in a persistent vegetative state and unable to make decisions on his or her own.
The instructions included in a health care directive include wishes on if and how breathing tubes, dialysis, painkillers, food and fluids, and other treatments should be administered.
Connecticut also has a related form called a Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment or MOLST document. As its name indicates, this complementary document focuses on choices about life-sustaining treatments.
Will or Trust
A Will is a fairly straightforward document that captures how your assets will be distributed after your death. If you have minor children, you can also use your Will to appoint a guardian. Wills can be changed at any time and for any reason.
A trust or living trust is similar to a Will in that it deals with how your property and assets will be managed after your death, but it also provides for lifetime instructions in case you are disabled or incapacitated by an accident or illness. In such cases, the person identified as the trustee can take over asset management.
The benefit of a trust over a Will is that it allows families to avoid having to go through probate court to settle the distribution of assets. It’s also an extra layer of security that allows you to plan for worst-case scenarios in which you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Trusts can also be set up to accommodate specific situations, such as arranging care for a family member with special needs.
Working on these kinds of documents might seem like a lot to take on while you’re dealing with the challenges of a stay-at-home order, but getting everything in order can help you sleep better.
The good news is that most of us have a little extra time in our schedules these days. Also, on March 10, 2020, Governor Lamont signed an executive order that included authorization of remote notarization so that citizens of Connecticut can pursue the drafting and signing of critical documents like these from the safety of their own homes.
If you or your loved ones haven’t already put these critical documents in place. There really is no time like the present.
Note: We are open and available to consult with you by phone or videoconference. Give us a call at (860) 236-7673, or contact us here.