The spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has been a time of adjustment for many here in Chicago and around the country. As we all adapt to working remotely, homeschooling children, picking up new technology, and getting in the habit of practicing healthy social distancing, many families are also looking to the future.
The coronavirus crisis underscores the vital importance of having a plan in place in the event that something serious should ever happen to you or someone you love. As you look ahead to the realities of life during and after the coronavirus pandemic, one essential element to consider is your power of attorney, for healthcare and finances.
What Is a Power of Attorney?
Broadly speaking, a power of attorney (POA) is a legal document that allows you to appoint a person or an organization to make decisions and manage affairs on your behalf, in the event that you are no longer able to do so for yourself. There are different types of powers of attorney, which grant different levels of control over your affairs:
- Healthcare power of attorney: This document outlines the person or organization — known as the agent, or attorney-in-fact — who will make your medical decisions if you should become incapacitated.
- Property power of attorney: Also called a power of attorney for finances, this designates an agent to make financial decisions on your behalf.
Along with the type of POA, it’s important to consider the amount of freedom and flexibility that you’re granting to your chosen agent. General powers of attorney can provide broad powers to act on your behalf on a wide range of decisions; you can also create a more restrictive, limited power of attorney, which only gives the agent the ability to perform specific tasks.
It’s also important to consider whether your POA will be durable. A durable power of attorney goes into effect immediately and will remain in effect in the event that you become incapacitated; you can also set up your POA so that it goes into effect when you lose the capacity to make certain decisions.
POA: A Key Protection In Turbulent Times
In light of the ever-changing situation with COVID-19, having powers of attorney for healthcare and finances in place can provide peace of mind for yourself and your family, making life’s most difficult transitions easier to manage.
Having a durable power of attorney for healthcare can help ensure that you’re able to get the medical treatment you need in an emergency situation. A healthcare POA can take the guesswork out of the treatment process for your loved ones, by making it clear who has the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. This can also help prevent disputes or family conflicts from bubbling up in an already stressful moment.
Similarly, having a durable financial power of attorney can help you rest assured that your loved ones will be taken care of in the event that you become incapacitated or unable to handle your financial affairs. With a POA for property and finances, your agent can address ongoing financial matters, from making sure that bills are paid, to handling investments and business interests on your behalf. With a power of attorney for finances, you can exert a great deal of control over your agent — granting them a broad degree of freedom, or limiting their decision-making powers to a very narrow scope.
Given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding COVID-19, now may also be a good time to consider a special power of attorney. This designation allows you to specify exactly what powers your agent can exercise. With this type of power of attorney, you may grant your agent permission to represent you for a limited window of time. This can empower a family member or trusted advisor to take action on your behalf if you are confined to the house, or unable to attend an important meeting due to travel restrictions.
Bottom line? Thinking about POAs now can help make things easier in an emergency, when the most important people in your life may need to make a lot of decisions — and time is of the essence. Having a POA in place is a key part of any estate plan, and is a meaningful step you can take at any stage of life’s journey.
An experienced and knowledgeable estate planning attorney can help you understand all of the moving pieces that go into designating POAs, including helping you draw up and implement documents that fully align with your wishes and goals. At the same time, your attorney can help you consider how a POA might fit into your overall estate plan, alongside a:
- Will. This important estate planning document allows you to express how you would like your property to be distributed when you pass away; name a guardian for your children; and appoint the executor who will manage your estate.
- Trust. A trust is a legal arrangement that allows a third party, known as the trustee, to hold and manage assets on behalf of a beneficiary you choose. Trusts can help provide for your family in a difficult time by distributing important assets outside of probate.
- Living Will or Advanced Directive. This short legal document which allows you to provide a medical directive and dictate your end-of-life wishes.
We’re Here for You
Preparing for the unknown can be difficult, especially if you are doing it alone. Our team of experienced and compassionate advocates is here to help.
At the Law Offices of J. Jeltes, we are set up to continue serving you during this unprecedented time. We hope everyone is practicing self-care, and staying safe and healthy. As we all adjust to our temporary “new normal,” we know that life’s everyday challenges will continue — and we are here for you.
Fortunately, legal assistance can be provided remotely and electronically. Currently, clients and potential clients can schedule a meeting or consultation via phone call or Zoom conferencing during normal business hours, or alternate hours upon request. If you or your family is struggling to adjust and you may have a legal issue to address, please don’t hesitate to get in touch to get the conversation started.