Forward Thinking Family Law Since 1994

Lessons from Covid: Importance of Estate Planning in Place for the Unexpected

importance of estate planning

If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, it is that we are all at risk of an unexpected illness or untimely death. If there’s one legal lesson to learn from this tragedy, it is the importance of estate planning, even for relatively young and seemingly healthy individuals and families.

COVID-19 Brings Unexpected Medical Emergencies to Thousands

The Coronavirus has infected over one million Michigan residents and killed over 20,000. While more than half the state is now fully vaccinated, hospitalizations remain high.  While it is true that the Coronavirus is more often fatal for the unvaccinated, elderly, or those with pre-existing conditions, over 850 Michiganders under age 50 have died from the disease. Statistically, this age group is also far less likely than older generations to have an estate plan in place.

The Importance of Estate Planning While You are Healthy

COVID-19 has shown the importance of estate planning, before it is “a necessity.” Far too many of us procrastinate in preparing estate planning options because we are busy, and it causes us to have to think about some uncomfortable and unpleasant truths about our own mortality.

Although obvious to the casual observer, a key requirement for creating any estate planning document is that the person signing the document must have the capacity to do so. You may have heard this referred to as “being of sound mind and body.” Waiting too long could mean that you need a conservatorship or guardianship over you, if you ever do lose capacity, even though such restrictive, court-supervised mechanisms can be avoided through a few simple documents. The optimal time to start estate planning is now (no matter what your age), while you are healthy and able to make the tough decisions about your health care and your possessions in the future.

What Happens if You Don’t Have an Estate Plan When You Get Sick

The importance of estate planning isn’t just about what happens when you die. A complete estate plan also makes preparations for when you can no longer take care of yourself, such as if you are hospitalized, on a ventilator, or simply feeling too ill to visit an attorney.

In addition to your will, your estate plan will likely include:

  • Powers of attorney for financial and business purposes (this important document could allow your agent to speak to you employer, to help extend your insurance benefits, to assist in paying for your medical care, or running your business for you while you are ill)
  • Patient advocate designations - through a medical power of attorney, you can appoint a patient advocate to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself, and it can prevent the need for a guardianship over you if you have a properly signed one.
  • Do-not-resuscitate orders (DNRs) -
  • HIPAA releases for sharing medical information
  • Guardian and conservator designations for your minor children while you are sick or hospitalized.

These documents designate who can make decisions for you when you are ill, in the hospital, or otherwise unable to make them yourself.   If you don’t have an estate plan including these documents, the hospital personnel may need to file an emergency petition in the Michigan probate court to have a guardian or conservator appointed to act on your behalf.

How Estate Planning Could Help Families Facing Coronavirus

Courts nationwide including here in Michigan are now facing backlogs of hundreds of unresolved cases, including estate administration for those who have died from COVID without a proper estate plan in place.

Understanding the importance of estate planning, will allow your appointed agents to do the following:

  • Use HIPAA releases to talk to doctors and hospitals about medical treatments, including ventilators and intubation.
  • Act as patient advocates to make decisions about the use of aggressive treatments like Remedesivir or experimental treatments such as monoclonal antibodies.
  • Allow your agent to authorize COVID vaccines to reduce long-haul symptoms.
  • Use a living will and DNR to avoid treatment protocols such as induced comas or repeated resuscitation when the end of life is near.
  • Use a durable financial power of attorney to access funds to pay for COVID-related medical bills, extend insurance coverage, or tap into savings to help pay the bills while you are ill.
  • Receive immediate access to funds to help support their families during layoffs and shutdowns.

COVD-19 has had tragic consequences for thousands of families. Honor the importance of estate planning and start preparing now for the next unexpected event. Your family will be glad you did.

At NSSSB, our experienced estate planning attorneys want to help guide you through the estate planning process now, while you are healthy, to make it easier for your family to deal with the unexpected. We have years of experience in writing estate planning documents that prepare for the future and the possibilities that may arise. We will make sure that your wishes are properly documented and executed when the time comes. Click here to schedule a consultation with an estate planning attorney and start making your estate plan today.