Emergency Planning for your Estate Plan

An estate plan is an important and necessary protection for your family, but it doesn’t do you much good if it is a dusty binder on your basement bookshelf. You need a plan for how to activate this plan and make it work for you when you need it. The whole point of your estate plan is to care for your family in a disaster, so you want to be able to utilize it when you need it. This concept has been thrown into sharper relief with the advent of the COVID-19 virus pandemic that is currently sweeping the world. You need a plan for the event of death or disability. 

Having safety nets such as life insurance, proper savings, disability insurance, and your estate plan are important steps to protecting your family’s security if either you or your spouse are disabled, suffer illness, lose employment, or die. 

However, once people have these protections in place, they often neglect the practical side of things. You have life insurance, but have you made a plan for someone (your personal representative) to contact your life insurance company and activate those benefits for your family in the case of death? You own a house, but do you have a plan for how the mortgage, power, and water will be paid? You have a guardian appointed, but what does it look like to make sure they are contacted and your children are settled in with them? 

What you need is a practical plan to execute your safety nets. This applies not only to death, but should also account for extreme illness, absence, temporary incapacity, or permanent incapacity. And this should go without saying, but it should account for these events to occur suddenly and unexpectedly. 

Over the next two posts, I will cover practical considerations for making your well-laid estate plan work for you when you need it to. In this first post, I will address how to ensure your children’s safety and well-being in the case of a tragedy and crisis. 

For most of us, the people we are most concerned for are our children. How are they going to be taken care of in a crisis? In the event that something happened to you and your spouse, your children may be in school, or with a babysitter, who have no idea who your children’s guardian is. The faster the names of the people fulfilling roles in your will such as guardian, personal representative, attorney in fact can be communicated to care-givers, authorities, or emergency personnel, the easier the transition is for the children, and the less likely the chances they will have to spend time in the custody of the state while things are being sorted out.  

Here are 5 practical steps to make your estate plan work for you when you need it to:

  1. First, when your estate plan is completed, officially inform anyone named in your estate plan–in writing. Just because someone said they were willing to act in a certain capacity (such as guardian or personal representative) for you, does not mean they will know that you actually finalized and notarized an estate plan granting them this responsibility. Maybe send a nice thank you card or small gift to express your appreciation. This will also aid in helping them to remember!
  2. Periodically remind these important people. People really do forget these things. You may even forget who you named yourself! My wife and I just realized we think we know who our personal representative is in our own estate plan, but we have to go back and check to be sure, because we can’t remember! And if we can’t remember, I’m sure he doesn’t! Every year, when you review your estate plan, shoot them an email checking in that they are still up for their stated duty. (If for whatever reason, they are no longer able or willing to perform the role they had previously agreed to, my Lifetime Estate Plan Support offers complimentary name changes to all Estate Plans I draft.)
  3. Think about practical suggestions you can pass on to your guardians. Obviously, you cannot and should not parent your children from the grave, but think about practical things that might aid both your children and their guardians in adjusting to a huge transition. Does your child have a special bedtime ritual that helps her sleep? Let the guardian know this. Have you noticed certain things that motivate your son to work hard in school? Pass this on. Obviously, you will not be able to think of everything, but a few tips on how to help your children deal with stress will be a huge blessing to both your children and their guardian in a stressful time of change. 
  4. In the case of a babysitter, make a Family Emergency Plan, place it in a prominent location (such as on the refrigerator), and draw your babysitter’s attention to it.  Include a list of the names and contact information of who you would like them to call in the case of emergency, and provide a few instructions for how to proceed. Maybe your parents are your children’s temporary guardian, and you would like them to be called first, even though they are not your children’s permanent guardian. Consider addressing procedures for a few different “emergency” scenarios–death in a car accident is very different than 3 hours late due to a fender bender.  Consider these scenarios ahead of time so your babysitter doesn’t have to panic and decide what to do in a crisis. 
  5. In the case of your children’s school, or other childcare situation, there is usually already a protocol for the sharing of this information, which they call the “Emergency Contact.” Next time you fill out your Emergency Contact information, consider this context when choosing who to write down. And then make sure those Emergency Contacts have the same Family Emergency Plan sheet that your babysitter has–share it in an email so they don’t lose it. You also can give a copy of your Family Emergency Plan to the school or daycare, so they have any instructions readily available. 

All of these steps hinge on communication. Taking a little extra time and effort to go the extra mile with communication can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of your estate plan, and helping your family through a crisis. 

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Eifert Law Firm

At Eifert Law Firm, we are committed to constantly honing our expertise and to continue learning and innovating to give you the best counsel in estate planning, probate, estate administration, and business law.

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