Coronavirus + Your Estate Plan

Since the beginning of the year, the threat of the COVID-19 virus, or coronavirus, has grown, moving from China across the world. It has already reached the US, and as I am writing this, is claiming lives in Seattle, and in my adopted hometown of Wenatchee, WA (in central Washington). For those of us who live in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho, it is in our backyard. EDIT: there is a suspected case in Pullman, WA now. 

How do we think about estate planning when we are in the midst of a potential pandemic? 

Here in the middle of March 2020, we have some stats on the disease. 

  • 80% of the cases are relatively mild;
  • About 20% of the cases become more severe;
  • It spreads easily;
  • Mortality rate seems to fall between 2-3%; and
  • The mortality rate rises as we get older (children are less susceptible and older adults, particularly those in nursing homes, are more prone).

To be clear, you should not get your stats and healthcare advice from me, a guy who takes a decidedly laissez-faire attitude to things like infectious diseases (I grew up on a farm as part of a large family, so…). Check out the CDC website here to get more up to date information on the disease and ways to combat coming down with it. 

So what do we do? A lot of us are stocking up on food and medicine, washing hands compulsively, cleaning/disinfecting neurotically, and following the spread with a “can’t look away” dread. But there are other things to think about too, and estate planning might be more important than you think. 

First, review your current plan, I just wrote a blog post about this so check it out. I will emphasize, you need to make sure that the people selected to act on your behalf are still able to fulfill these roles, whether it is in regards to your finances or health. If not, nominate someone else immediately. Also, if you don’t have alternates for these roles (and you should) then add them. We do not know if and when people will get this disease, and you do not want to be without someone to handle your affairs. Get backup. 

This advice also holds for people selected as guardians of minor children, for the person or people you nominated to act as your personal representative, or for trustees of any trusts you might have. Make sure those people are still able to act, and make sure you have alternates. 

As this is a health issue (or some would say “crisis”), we will naturally pay the most attention to the documents dealing with health or healthcare, such as the healthcare power of attorney or the healthcare directive/living will. You should pay attention to these, but do not neglect the other documents, particularly if you have minor children. 

Another important note, check in with your parents, grandparents, or other relatives of more advanced years. They, probably more than anyone else, need to make sure everything is squared away. The numbers seem to show that people in the older generations are predominately the ones who die from this virus. If they are not taking the initiative to review and update, you should gently kick them in the rear and make them do it.  I can’t stress this enough, our parents and grandparents need this more than anyone. 

One final thought. It is better to do this sooner rather than later, and not just because you are less likely to have succumbed to the disease. I do not want to be sensationalist, but, if you get it, or maybe even are just exposed to it, law firms and attorneys might not meet with you to get the plan updated. Offices might be shut down, and people could be quarantined. Better to get it done today and not tomorrow, especially since we do not know what tomorrow will hold (though if you follow the news, you might have an idea). 

I hope this helps. I have a free estate plan checklist that you can use. Download it and use it to guide you through these steps. Remember, make sure anyone you appointed to a role in your estate plan is still able to act, and appoint alternates to serve if they are unable. And, if you do not have an estate plan, obviously, you should get one. 

To reiterate, if you are over 60, you should really do this. 

To relieve the tension, here is a tweet I thought was funny. 

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