PPE for your Legacy: Estate Planning During COVID-19
By Richard Adams
A proper estate plan is critical for everyone – no matter their level of wealth or income. At its core, estate planning is not about the value of your assets, but your desire to control and ensure that your wishes are honored when you are no longer able to speak for yourself. This is especially relevant during this pandemic, when despite our best efforts there will be numerous fatalities and countless others affected. With this in mind, you should have the following documents in place:
Last Will and Testament (“Will”). This document allows you to control how the assets held in your name alone and without a beneficiary designation will be distributed upon your death. You can also nominate Guardians for your minor children and name a Personal Representative to handle your affairs. A Will allows for incredible flexibility as to bequests to individuals or entities that you wish to benefit from your estate upon your death, regardless of their relationship to you. Often, a Trust will be created within a Will to serve as a back-up tool to protect assets for minor children or individuals with special needs.
Personal Financial Power of Attorney. This document allows you to appoint someone as an Attorney-in-Fact to handle your financial affairs on your behalf. It grants very broad powers to this person, giving them the authority to basically do anything you can do financially, but with the duty to perform their actions in your best interest. This document also avoids the need to petition the Circuit Court for guardianship over your property when you are no longer able to handle your affairs, as the Attorney-in-Fact can perform such actions on your behalf.
Advance Medical Directive/Living Will. This document allows you to appoint someone else to make medical decisions on your behalf, but only in the event you are unable to do so. Your agent can interact with your medical professionals and review your medical information to serve as a resource to you related to ongoing medical needs. The document also provides guidance as to your wishes for medical care when it comes time to make end of life decisions and you are unable to make these decisions yourself. This document avoids the need to petition the Circuit Court for guardianship over your person/body when you are no longer able to handle your own affairs, as the agent can perform such actions on your behalf.
In Maryland, if you do not have these three documents in place, then the decisions related to your body and assets, both when you are alive and when you pass away, are controlled by the laws of State of Maryland. Sometimes, this can mean that a family member that does not agree with your lifestyle, or would not honor your wishes, is granted broad authority over you. Current law assumes that such power should be granted based on biological or legal relation, rather than personal connection. Thus, it is essential that everyone have such documents in place.
Depending on your specific situation, you may also wish to implement the following documents:
Trusts (Revocable/Irrevocable). Trusts can be created to serve a variety of purposes for the benefit of your spouse, children, or other family members. Unlike a Last Will and Testament, which must be publicly filed when you pass away, a Trust is a private disposition of your assets. It can also be a useful tool to protect funds for those with special needs, or from those that are not responsible with money. Trusts are very useful tools, when used for the proper reasons.
Deeds. The titling of real estate is important to any estate plan. There are different ways to hold property that may coincide with your goals, such as holding property as tenants-by-the-entirety with your spouse, or by owning a life interest in your property so that upon your death, the property would flow directly to your children, by operation of law.
Beneficiary Designation Forms: Essential to any estate plan discussion involves a careful review of how your assets are titled, including the beneficiary designations currently in effect for your retirement accounts and life insurance policies. All of these financial pieces need to be reviewed and considered when putting a plan in place. These assets will be distributed outside of your Will and flow directly to the beneficiaries you have chosen. Often, designations may need to be updated to reflect your current planning wishes and this type of review should be done periodically.
Charitable Giving: During a pandemic or other national emergency, charitable giving is even more critical, as non-profits ramp up their services to the community, while lacking in available volunteers and funding. You may leave a portion of your assets to support charitable or religious organizations, including those that specifically support and protect vulnerable members of their community, such as first-responders or medical professionals. You could consider such charitable giving in your documents as a back-up in the event that your loved ones predecease you. This way, your legacy will go to support causes that you believe in, rather than to extended family with whom you have no relationship.
Each County in Maryland has a Community Foundation that works with clients to identify the client’s charitable goals. For example, in Baltimore, there is the Baltimore Community Foundation (“BCF”), which provides various resources and strategies at no cost throughout the estate planning process. They offer a host of funds supporting incredible goals and aspirations - and if there isn’t one that resonates with you – you can work closely with BCF to simply create one! It’s an amazing opportunity to give back while also provide peace of mind during the estate planning process.
The attorneys at O’Byrne Law work closely with their clients to ensure both personal safety and the complete satisfaction of legal requirements (e.g., notarization and witnessing), without compromising the efficiency or effectiveness of their service. We are offering Zoom video meeting options and telephone consultations to support social distancing. When meeting with clients in person to sign documents, we are using a multi-tier protocol that ensures the protection of our staff and clients. Our goal is to bring peace of mind and clarity, especially during this uncertain time.
This information is intended to provide only general information about a legal topic and should not be construed as legal advice. For qualified legal counsel on this topic please contact Richard L. Adams, Esq., of O’Byrne Law, LLC at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-667-0020.