Given the uncertainty of things to come and the daily changes we are all each being asked to process and endure, we wanted to share some thoughts on the importance of preparedness from an estate planning perspective.
Preparedness applies to your estate plan as well as your pantry and disinfectant supply. Obviously, if you know that you are going to die, you would want your plan to be in order. With COVID 19, the greater likelihood is that that you will be out of commission for a time. You might be sick and in isolation at a health facility. Or perhaps you are sick and at home but just don’t feel like doing anything but sleeping for a few weeks or more. Are your affairs set up to keep your life going if you can’t maintain your regular routine?
We thought this would be a good time to review and summarize a few basic estate planning documents which take on greater importance in situations this. We’ll review a few more in our next newsletter as well.
Durable Powers of Attorney, Health Care Proxies and Living Wills
We call these documents “Advance Directives.”
A durable Power of Attorney names someone (an “agent” or “attorney in fact”) to handle your finances if you can’t. This type of document typically gives your agent the power to do every possible financial act for you. This is not a document you should “download” from the internet. In order to ensure maximum effectiveness and proper execution, it should be prepared, reviewed and signed with the assistance of a competent estate planning attorney.
A Health Care Proxy names an agent to make medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so yourself. A Living Will serves as a partner to that Health Care Proxy and states your intentions and preferred decision making in an end of life situation.
COVID 19 is a medical threat which may compromise your ability to make decisions, so it makes sense to execute all three of these documents. And if you have them already, you should review them. Will the people named be able to serve, if needed? Does your Living Will accurately express your wishes?
While New York law allows relatives and even friends to make medical decisions for you in the absence of a Health Care Proxy or Living Will, there is no similar law for personal and financial decision making. Even spouses don’t automatically get access to their spouse’s separate assets without a Durable Power of Attorney, or, in dire circumstances, guardianship proceedings.
Advance Directives are not just for seniors. Every competent adult over the age of 18 should have them, and this nasty virus illustrates why. The virus spreads easily, anyone can get it, and no one knows how hard it might hit. In unpredictable situations, you should know who you want to be making these important decisions for you, and make sure you have the documents in place so that they have the authority to act when the time comes.
There’s never a bad time to review and revisit these issues, but a world-wide medical scare is a particularly good reason to do it. In the meantime, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, cough into a tissue (better than your elbow) and dispose of it right away, eat right, stay hydrated, and get plenty of rest. Chances are, you’ll make it through this, but it never hurts to be prepared.
Finalizing and Signing your Documents in Isolation
Last week, Governor Cuomo signed an Executive Order that allows for documents to be notarized remotely, and that Order is in place until April 18, 2020. In addition, we understand that his office is considering an Executive Order to make clear that witnessing important legal documents can also be done remotely.
Immediately upon learning of last week’s Executive Order, we developed a protocol to supervise, witness and notarize documents through video conferencing in a manner which we believe to be consistent with the Order and applicable state law on the subject. For now, any clients who execute their documents through this remote process will be asked to come back to the office after the Stay at Home Order has been lifted in order to execute them formally, in person.
Importance of Community
Over the last couple of weeks we have been posting on Social Media information about organizations in our community which provide essential services and are in need of assistance in many forms. We wrote about Wellspring (www.wellspringcares.org)and Captain Community Human Services (www.captaincares.org).
Here we would like to draw your attention to the Wesley Community  (www.thewesleycommunity.org). The Wesley Community has provided services and programs with a commitment to compassion, caring and excellence for nearly 50 years. What began as an innovative combination of independent housing for older adults and skilled nursing care on a single site has grown into a multiplex of services that enhance hundreds of lives daily.
Given what the Wesley Community has been dealing with on site during the COVID-19 pandemic, we reached out to them to ask how we the community can help. Here are some suggestions:
Make a donation to the Wesley Health Care Center Resident Enrichment Fund which provides resources to enhance the quality of life of Wesley Health Care Center residents.
Make a donation to the Staff Emergency Fund which provides emergency resources to staff members of The Wesley Community during an unexpected time of need.
Make a donation of non-perishable food items, paper goods or toiletries. These items will be available for staff and independent residents who are in need or don’t have access to stores during their off-hours. Please call 518-691-1420 ahead of time before dropping off anything as Wesley has strict campus visitation guidelines in effect and someone will need to meet you outside.
Make a general donation to The Wesley Foundation through its General Fund. To meet current and future challenges presented by COVID-19, Wesley is incurring significant costs beyond their normal operating budget.
Purchase gift certificates in small increments from a local restaurant that can be used to order takeout for their dedicated staff. This helps both the staff and the restaurants in town who are also suffering due to the shutdown. A list of open restaurants can be found here https://www.saratoga.org/tourism/take-out-week/. The staff at Wesley is working diligently to keep residents safe and this would be a welcome treat.
For more information, please call 518-691-1420 or email foundation@thewesleycommunity.org.