There's a lot of hype and misinformation out there surrounding all things relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. I think that has spread to the world of estate planning as well, as folks search for answers about how they need to legally protect themselves and their family in light of the COVID-19 crisis, or wonder if their existing estate plans are sufficient or need to be changed.
Here's the no hype, straight talk answer you need to know: The COVID-19 pandemic changes nothing with respect to how to properly and legally plan to protect yourself and your family. To be clear, you don't need to do anything extra or unusual with respect to your estate plan here in Georgia because of the pandemic.
In my view, what this pandemic does is highlight the need for good estate planning. A good estate plan is going to help provide for many different situations, such as COVID-19, other illnesses, an incapacity, and, of course, death. But no, there is no special estate planning needed just to deal with COVID-19.
So, if you don't need to do anything special, from an estate planning perspective, to deal with COVID-19, what do you need to do? Here's the no hype, straight talk answer: You need a solid estate plan in place to address these 4 things at a minimum:
1. If you were to become incapacitated and can't manage your healthcare, you need a Georgia Advance Directive for Healthcare that appoints a healthcare agent to be responsible for directing your care. This advance directive will also provide guidance on how you want to be treated in certain conditions.
2. If you are incapacitated and can't manage your finances and property, you need a Georgia Durable Power of Attorney that appoints an agent to have legal authority to manage your money and property.
3. If you die, you want a plan in place to set forth how your assets are to be distributed upon your death and who should be in charge of that process. This can be done through a Living Trust, a Will, or both. Whether to use a trust-based plan or a Will-based plan depends on several factors relating to your family situation, finances, and your goals.
4. If you have minor-aged children, your estate plan should provide for who will take care of them after your death if needed, as well as ensuring that the right person or persons are managing the money and property left for minors or young adults until it is time to distribute those assets in accordance with your wishes.
You'll probably agree that these are wise things to plan for, regardless of whether there is a pandemic going on around us or not. Of course, some situations might benefit from additional planning beyond these basic 4 things, but for many people, getting these basic issues addressed is all they need to do.
Then, once you plan is in place, be sure to keep it current and tuned up. Think of your estate plan as being somewhat like your car. You get it tuned up every now and then to ensure it runs in tip top shape. Your estate plan may need to be tuned up from time to time as well due to changes in your life and family situation, changes in your finances, and changes in the law. While estate planning tools don't change every year or two, they do change from time to time, and you should ensure that as the laws change, your estate plan is updated, if appropriate, to qualify for the most favorable treatment under the law (for example, Georgia significantly overhauled its POA laws in 2017, and if your POA is older than that, it should almost certainly be updated). That's why we recommend that your planning documents yourself once a year, and then sit down with us for a more comprehensive review every three years. Don't just “set it and forget it” and trust your plan still works optimally for you, despite changes in your own situation and the law. That's dangerous.
The bottom line is this: Don't buy into the hype going on around us. But, do make sure you've properly planned for these 4 real-world issues so that you have the confidence to know that your wishes are properly documented and legal plans are in place to protect yourself and your family.
The good news is that estate planning in Georgia doesn't have to be hard. And we can do most of it, if not all of it, remotely via video conference and telephone. Currently, due to Governor Kemp's executive order, we can even get documents signed and witnessed via video conference so that you can get your plans in place without the need to come to our office (this executive order allowing remote notarizations and witnessing will expire once the Governor's public health state of emergency expires).
If you're ready to get started, just reach out and contact us. Or, if you want more information on estate planning in Georgia, request our free guide, no strings attached.