Coronavirus Law Hub

5 Key Estate Planning Documents to Have In Place

These are five essential Estate Planning documents you should have:

  1. Will: This is a legal document that directs the distribution of your assets after death and can appoint guardians for minor children. If you die without a Will, your State’s laws decide who gets your assets and other property. Many states require two witnesses to watch you sign and date the Will and then sign as witnesses. Most states do not allow beneficiaries under the will to be witnesses.
  2. Health Care Durable Power of Attorney: A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, also known as a Health Care Proxy, permits you to name someone to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated in some way (say, in a coma) but still alive. In most states, the document must be signed, dated and notarized. It generally does not have to be witnessed.
  3. Living Will: A Living Will, sometimes called an Advance Care Directive, outlines the kind of medical care you want if you are terminally ill. For example, if you do not want to be kept alive on life-support systems, such as a respirator or feeding tube, you can make that known. (As morbid as it may seem, this could save your family a substantial sum in medical bills.) You can include instructions for organ donation. For a Living Will to be valid, it typically must be witnessed by two adults, and they usually cannot be members of your family or your attending physicians. Depending on your state, you’ll need to sign the document in front of witnesses, a notary or both.
  4. Durable Power of Attorney for Finances: A Financial Power of Attorney is a document that gives someone the authority to handle financial transactions on your behalf. It is designed to let someone else manage all of your financial affairs for you if you become incapacitated. In some states you simply sign the document in front of a notary; others require witnesses to sign as well.
  5. HIPAA Authorization: The federal Health Insurance Affordability and Accountability Act set privacy rules for patient records; a release document for records is generally executed along with estate planning documents. It allows you to name people to be treated with the same rights you have regarding disclosure of medical records. Typically, this includes your spouse, children or other close relatives, so that these family members can communicate with doctors and nurses and find out how you’re doing if you are hospitalized.

Protective Measures to Keep All of Our Clients Safe:

We protect my clients, our families, and the community at all times by providing all legal services via electronic, videoconference, and telephonic means, to the greatest extent possible.

We use state-of-the-art encrypted systems that ensure all client information is secure and protected. We also create an individual secure, password-protected, Client Portal for each of our clients, from which they can access their documents at any time from their computer or smart phone. This alleviates the stress associated with trying to locate vital documents, such as Health Care Proxies, Living Wills, HIPPA Authorizations, and Powers of Attorney, when they are needed most.

Recent emergency executive orders from our States’ Governors have enabled us to do things such as electronic notarizing, and in some cases, witnessing of documents.

Where “wet” signatures are still required for certain documents, I work with my clients on an individual basis to ensure that their documents are properly executed while avoiding the risk of virus transmission. This can involve anything from mailing documents and video recording signings to meeting in an outdoor space so the signors and witnesses can wear masks and maintain social distancing.