Three Proactive Steps You Can Take to Be Prepared During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Alternative rock band R.E.M.’s 1987 hit song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is moving up the top songs list on iTunes, currently sitting at No. 33. In 1987, the song peaked on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts at No. 69. Now, 33 years after the song’s release, the spike in the song’s popularity is likely tied to the World Health Organization’s announcement that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has reached pandemic levels. Listening to a song about the end of the world speaks to the psychology of how we respond to our fears; we respond in a manner that allows us to feel in control of a situation. We try to latch onto something that provides comfort, such as listening to songs to cope with anxiety, or even stocking up on supplies.
However, instead of buying mass quantities of toilet paper, or listening to R.E.M. choruses on repeat, GSRNH recommends three alternative and proactive steps you can take to be prepared and organized in these uncertain times:
- Review your Last Will and Testament (or revocable trust) – or if you don’t have a Will, contact our office to have a Will prepared. With a Will, you determine who will receive your assets upon your death. A Will can also establish guardians upon your death for minor children who are under the age of 18. If you do not already have a Will in place, we recommend that you contact our office.
- If you have an existing Will, does your Will express your current wishes? Are the beneficiaries you named in the Will still living and up to date? Are the Executors you named still appropriate?
- If you have a revocable trust, review the same questions as above but also consider whether you have taken steps to transfer your assets into the name of your trust. Generally speaking, most assets should be titled to your trust to avoid probate court proceedings upon your death.
- A few additional important items to consider: Illinois does not recognize handwritten Wills (holographic) or verbal Wills. Additionally, there are witness requirements and document execution formalities that must be followed when signing a Will; therefore, an attorney should prepare any estate planning documents. Do not try to change or update your own legal documents without an attorney, as all of the estate planning documents must be coordinated and consistent with each other.
- Update your Power of Attorney for Health Care – and if you don’t have a Power of Attorney for Health Care, contact our office to have one prepared. A Power of Attorney for Health Care gives a person (called an “agent”) the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event you are incapacitated and unable to make a health care decision for yourself. An Illinois Power of Attorney for Health Care also gives you the ability to provide guidance regarding life support to your family and allows your health care agent to receive protected health care information from health care providers (information covered by HIPAA) in an emergency. If you have an existing Power of Attorney for Health Care, typically the form should be updated every 4-5 years. Review whether your designated agents are still appropriate. If you do not have a Power of Attorney for Health Care (or other estate planning documents), please contact us.
- Check your beneficiary designations on your accounts to ensure overall coordination with your estate plan. A Will or Trust may not dispose of all of your assets. For example, if you have a 401(k), IRA, or life insurance policy, the person you name as a beneficiary of such account or policy will receive the proceeds even if your Will says otherwise. Additionally, you will want to make sure you have designated a beneficiary for all retirement accounts and life insurance because failing to name a beneficiary (or naming your “estate”) can create additional complications in the event of your death.
Because “social distancing” is the new norm (for now), our firm can provide estate planning consultations over the phone or through video conferencing to help you expedite the process of getting your estate plan in order. Please call us at (630) 655-6000 to schedule a consultation or contact us online at GSRNH.COM. It is important not to delay your planning.
Written by Michelle V. Hanlon