The coronavirus has undoubtedly had a devastating impact felt by all individuals on a global scale. In these truly unprecedented times, we understand that individuals will continue to face profound and long-term uncertainty for what lies ahead. Perhaps now more than ever, we urge everyone, regardless of familial situation or net worth, to examine your personal affairs to prepare for the unexpected. As part of this process, it is imperative to review whether you have a basic estate plan in place, and if so, whether it is up to date. As trusted advisors to clients of all backgrounds, we remain committed to educating you on estate planning basics and important related items.

While estate plans differ in form, any basic estate plan should include a healthcare power of attorney / living will, a durable power of attorney for finances, a last will and testament, and a revocable living trust.

The widespread impact of the coronavirus and potential severity of symptoms have proven to impose grave health risks to all individuals regardless of age or physical condition. In more severe cases, hospitalization is often required. A healthcare power of attorney and durable power of attorney for finances allow you to designate an “agent” to make healthcare decisions and manage your financial and property affairs in the event of incapacitation. These are usually separate documents that allow you to appoint agents for healthcare and financial matters, respectively. Should you become temporarily or permanently incapacitated without proper power of attorney documents in place, no one will have legal authority to make healthcare or financial decisions on your behalf unless and until a court appoints a guardian and conservator to make decisions for you. The appointment of a guardian and/or conservator involves court proceedings that can be costly and, more importantly, time-consuming in a circumstance where time is of the essence.

A living will is a document that allows you to set forth your intentions regarding end-of-life care. Importantly, you can make an advance declaration regarding the continued administration or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment in end-of-life situations. The proper implementation of a living will not only allows you to express your wishes, but it also removes the burden of this immensely difficult decision from your loved ones.  A living will and healthcare power of attorney are often combined into a single document called an “advance directive.”

As you likely know, a last will and testament is a document that allows you to nominate a guardian and conservator for minor children, designate how your property will be distributed upon your passing, and appoint a personal representative to administer your estate. A revocable living trust serves these same important functions (with the exception of establishing guardians and conservators for minor children), but also provides additional benefits, including lifetime management of your financial and property affairs in the event of incapacitation and minimization of the requirements and related expenses associated with the administration of an estate. Without a last will and testament or revocable living trust in place, state law will likely dictate who will receive all or some of your assets and who will be in charge of your estate, which can create results that are inconsistent with your intentions and problematic for certain heirs, including surviving spouses and minor children. For example, if you are married with children and pass away without a proper estate plan, under Nebraska law your spouse would only receive $100,000 of your assets plus one-half of the balance.

In addition to implementing a basic estate plan that properly captures your goals and objectives, you should review the titling of your assets to confirm that any jointly titled assets and beneficiary designations are consistent with your intentions. Ultimately, the assets of many individuals will be distributed through a combination of estate plan documents and/or asset titling arrangements.

The Estate/Wealth Planning attorneys at Dvorak Law Group have the knowledge and experience to efficiently assist our clients with their estate planning needs. Please contact Dvorak Law Group for specific questions and recommendations regarding establishing or updating your estate plan.