If the COVID pandemic has taught us anything, it is that you can never predict what’s around the corner. Many people were caught short without an estate plan and sadly, their families and loved ones did not receive the distributions that their afflicted relatives would have wanted them to receive. Nor did they, themselves, have powers of attorney in place relating to their finances and health care. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is not too late to take heed of lessons about the importance of planning for uncertainty in the future.
My father was a lawyer whose practice, like mine, focused on estate planning. In his Will he left everything to my mother, expecting that I would be the sole beneficiary of her estate when she died. Unexpectedly, my mother died 5 years before my father and in his grief, he neglected to update his will. When he died several years later, I had to petition the Surrogate’s Court in New York to appoint me as conservator of his estate so that I could distribute his assets to his sole heir – myself. This was both costly and time consuming and most of all, needless, if he had just updated his Will.
When I meet with potential clients, I always stress that estate planning is not just about assets – it also involves creating financial and health care powers of attorney and advance directives to ensure that their finances and personal care are handled according to their wishes in the event that they become seriously ill or incapacitated. While illness is easy to recognize and determine, incapacity is less straightforward to establish. No one wants to be told that he/she is incapable of doing the things and making the decisions that he/she once could. A properly constructed estate plan will set forth the requirements for determining a person’s incapacity so that if the time comes, there is little conflict surrounding that determination.
Similarly, a properly conceived health care power of attorney will name the person or people who can make decisions about your care and treatment if you are unable to express those wishes yourself. These documents relate to illness, which is never a pleasant thing to contemplate. Estate planning in general forces us to realistically consider the future when things may not be as bright as they are today. Catastrophes like the pandemic substantially shorten the time frame for making those decisions, but an unexpected car accident or a slip-and-fall may have the same effect.
So what is the takeaway lesson to be learned from the pandemic? Quite simply: It is never too soon to put a plan in place to provide for your own care and the distribution of your assets to the heirs and charities of your choosing. Please call Richard Agins at Agins Law Firm, PLC, PLC at (480) 401-2660 to schedule a consultation.