Coronavirus has been all over the news—and with good reason. For some people, it can turn into a serious illness, if contracted. Thankfully, for the great majority of people who have contracted the disease, the symptoms appear to be relatively mild. Nevertheless, it is crucial for everyone to continue to take all the steps necessary to protect those who are more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill if they are exposed to COVID-19. Among the people who have died in Illinois as a result of COVID-19, several have been residents in nursing homes in Cook, Lake and DuPage Counties. We should all care for our neighbors and communities by staying home, washing our hands frequently, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces around us, and implementing any other steps recommended by health experts.
Although most people are not likely to be in serious danger even if they contract the coronavirus, it is a wake-up call to those who have been putting off creating or updating an estate plan. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring, so for your own peace of mind and the good of your loved ones, it is important to stop procrastinating!
There are several key documents an estate plan should include to protect you and your family, if you should suddenly become very ill or pass away:
Last Will and Testament and/or a Trust
A will enables you to specify the individuals you would like to receive your money and property. In addition, you can name the guardian(s) to care for your children or other dependents if you are unable to do so and a conservator to handle their financial needs. For many, however, a will alone is not the best solution, as it is only effective after you pass away and your estate is forced to go through the probate process within the court system.
In a revocable living trust, you can name yourself as a trustee and continue to exercise control over the money and property you transfer to the name of the trust. However, it also enables you to name a co-trustee or successor trustee who can manage your money and property for your benefit and the benefit of any other beneficiaries of the trust if you become too ill to do it yourself. In addition, your trust can specify when and how your funds should be distributed to your beneficiaries after you pass away. Further, if you have transferred all of your property into the trust, it will not have to go through the probate process—which can be expensive, time consuming, and open to the public.
For some, other types of trusts may be appropriate to achieve particular goals, for example, protecting assets from creditors or providing for a child with special needs.
Note: If you do not create a will or trust specifying who you would like to receive your money and property when you die, it will pass to the individuals specified in the Illinois intestacy statute in the percentages mandated by the statute. Obviously, this is not optimal, as the people and shares spelled out in the statute may be vastly different from what you would have specified in your estate planning documents – had you executed them. Moreover, probate is required for the administration of your estate if you die without a will or trust, which results in additional expenses and time. In addition, a court will have to appoint a guardian and/or conservator to care for your children—and the person appointed may not be the individual you would have chosen.
Powers of Attorney
By executing a power of attorney, you can name people you trust to make decisions on your behalf if you become ill and are unable to make them for yourself. Even if you are married, your spouse may not have the authority to make all of these types of decisions for you without the proper documentation.
A health care power of attorney can be used to name a trusted person as your agent to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate your wishes to your health care provider. As your agent, the named individual is required to act in accordance with your wishes to the extent that they are known to that person, so it is important to communicate important information regarding your preferred providers, medical conditions, treatments you do not want, religious convictions, and other pertinent information.
A durable financial power of attorney will allow the person you have named as your agent to make financial decisions and conduct business on your behalf if you cannot handle these matters for yourself. It can be as broad or as limited as you choose. For example, you could authorize a trusted individual to run your business for you, or you could simply authorize another person to write checks and pay your bills on your behalf.
Note: If you do not name trusted individuals to act for you in powers of attorney, your family members, including your spouse under some circumstances, will have to go to court to be appointed to this role. As in the situation in which you do not have a will or trust, you no longer have any control over who is named to act on your behalf and the person appointed by the court may not be the person you would have selected to take on these important roles.
Advance Directive/Living Will
Your advance directive, also known as a living will, is a document that clearly spells out your wishes for the end of your life (e.g., whether or not you want to be placed on life support if you are in a vegetative state or have a terminal condition). This important document allows your family and health care providers to understand your wishes, even if you are no longer able to communicate them.
You can use a memorial and services memorandum to provide information to your family and loved ones about your wishes regarding a funeral or memorial service, people who should be notified when you pass away, instructions regarding your remains, and information you would like included in your obituary. If you do not provide this information in advance, your grieving family will be left to guess what you would have wanted, which can lead to unnecessary stress and conflict at a time when they are likely to be feeling emotionally overwrought.
Give Us a Call
Certain situations can bring our own mortality to the forefront of our minds, even if they are unlikely to have a severe or direct effect on us. The coronavirus has affected people in the United States and around the world and provides an important reminder of just how important an estate plan is, not only to us, but also to our loved ones, in case the unexpected happens. O'Connor Law Offices' foremost goal is to help you have confidence that your own care and the needs of your family will be addressed if you become ill. Call us today to set up a meeting; we are still servicing our clients through telephone and video conferencing. During the stay-at-home order, the best way to contact O'Connor Law Offices is via telephone (708-460-8888) or via email ( [email protected] ). You are not alone! We are all in this together.