Like so many of you, I am connecting with friends and family by telephone and videoconference to maintain my sanity and do my best to stay at home for the safety of our vulnerable community members and frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a few of my calls, I have noticed that some of my friends and family are now thinking about creating a legacy plan or updating their estate plan along with other things they wish they had done before the pandemic. Luckily, it is not too late to accomplish many of those things, and hopefully it is simply a matter of time and patience before they can do the others. Here are a few of the (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) things my friends and family have mentioned they wish to have done before the pandemic:
1. Prepare Estate Planning Documents
Several family members and friends are using the pandemic as the impetus to take their estate plan out, brush off the dust, and review it to confirm it reflects their current family circumstances and wishes for their legacy. Others are creating an estate plan for the first time. Regardless of which situation applies to you, it is important that you have the basic “don’t leave home with them” documents in place. You should have a Power of Attorney that appoints a person to make financial decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. Likewise, a Health Care Proxy that names an individual to make health care decisions if you are unable to do so yourself is imperative. A HIPAA Authorization form, which allows the people you name on it to receive medical information about you is particularly relevant, too. Lastly, a Last Will and Testament that appoints a person to manage your assets and distribute them according to your wishes is a must have for most people, and remember -where there is a will, there is a way!
2. Discuss Wishes with Agents and Family Members
Let’s face it – thinking about your own demise can be saddening, depressing, scary and difficult. Talking about it can be even more so. However, the pandemic is causing many of my family members and friends to think seriously about their wishes in case they become ill and do not recover. They are having conversations with or providing written instructions to the individuals appointed in their estate planning documents (their agents) and family members about what they would want to happen in the event they become incapacitated or pass away. One way to ease into the conversation is to create a list of resources that you want your family to reach out to if you fall ill or pass away, such as care management agencies, attorneys, rehabilitation centers, or funeral homes you favor. Doing so may give you a sense of control during these uncertain times and the peace of mind that you, your family, and your estate will be taken care of the way you intend if something happens.
3. Be Prepared: Maintain a Well-Stocked Pantry (and Other Useful Non-perishables – Toilet Paper, Anyone?)
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being prepared for the unexpected and emergencies. One way to be prepared is to maintain a supply of items you consider necessities as best you can. I have a much greater appreciation now for readily available toilet paper, hand soap, cleaning supplies, flour and yeast. Beyond pantry items and cleaning items, basic medical supplies such as gloves, masks, bandages, antibiotic ointment, medication, etc. are clearly helpful to have on hand. Of course, it is important to thoughtfully collect items – keep in mind to purchase only what you require as other people likely need them, too.
Consider what estate planning and legal documents should be accessible to family members, designate a location for the documents and share the location with your family members and/or friends. Perhaps keep electronic copies of your legal documents available on your cell phone or a USB drive. Remember to share a copy of your health care proxy (paper and/or electronic) with your named health care agent(s).
Another way to be prepared is to consider having a “go bag” with essentials you might need in case you have to leave your home suddenly, and/or a family member or friend needs to assist you at home because you are ill. For example, keep toiletries, clothing, copies of relevant legal documents, an extra cell phone charger, and entertainment materials in the go bag.
4. Embrace Social Events (and Family and Friends!) More Often
Continue to use this opportunity to spend time with family members and friends in innovative ways – virtual game nights, virtual family yoga sessions, or simply sharing your favorite books, movies or television shows with each other. Think about the activities you did in the past that you look forward to enjoying in the future. For example, some of my friends wish they had swum more often and plan to make time for swimming at their community pool once that is possible again. Other friends wish they had traveled and explored new places more, whether by visiting a festival in a nearby town, camping in another state, or hiking ancient ruins in a country halfway across the world.
Once the pandemic is over, say yes to invitations and events, no matter how big or small. And give and get hugs! In short, engage and embrace your loved ones and living life fully again.
5. Remember That You Are A Member of A Community
One of my friends remarked that she wishes she had paid more attention to the news. Her insightful comment illuminates the larger message that is currently being heard far and wide: we are all connected and in this together. Invest some time in being an observant, active and considerate participant in your town, state, country and the world, and leave a legacy of kindness. Listen or watch local and international news and contribute when and where you are able. There are countless examples of people helping others by delivering groceries to elderly neighbors to musicians sharing hopeful songs on social media. How can you safely help others?
I hope you are finding productive and helpful (and enjoyable) ways to manage the “new normal” caused by the pandemic. Whether you are taking this time to focus on your estate plan and preparedness, or discussing the serious and silly stuff with family and friends, or helping others, please be safe and well.
Attorney Abigail V. Poole is an associate attorney with the Dedham firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. She is an active member of the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit www.ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
© 2020 Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC