Estate Planning: Getting your affairs in order in the age of COVID

Over 275 community-based organizations across the U.S. attended the webinar, which featured guest speaker David Godfrey, senior attorney for the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging.
Published: Thursday, September 03, 2020

Estate planning requires us to look at our own mortality and ask ourselves some very difficult questions: What if I become seriously ill, disabled or incapacitated? Who will make medical decisions for me? What if my partner becomes disabled? What will happen to my children, my dog, Nana’s valuable cookbook, mom’s wedding ring, and even my body, if I die?

On Aug. 15, Consumer Action answered these and other questions during a timely “Coping with COVID-19” webinar we hosted titled “Estate Planning for Healthcare, Finances and More During a Pandemic.” Over 275 community-based organizations across the U.S. attended the webinar, which featured guest speaker David Godfrey, senior attorney for the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging. (You can view the webinar online in its entirety here.)

In addition to promoting Consumer Action's new fact sheet “Estate planning: Critical decisions for uncertain times,” Consumer Action Outreach and Training Manager Linda Williams kicked off the presentation by engaging participants with a true/false game that tested their knowledge of estate planning and revealed facts such as how the number of Americans with wills or other types of estate planning documents is steadily decreasing, with only 1 in 5 having prepared advance healthcare directives!

Godfrey opened his presentation by reminding the audience that bad things—illness, injuries and disasters—can and do happen, and that planning for unfortunate events is particularly critical in the era of COVID-19. Unfortunately, Godfrey explained, even when bad things befall us and our loved ones, decisions must be still be made about health care, how bills will be paid, and, in the event of death, how our estate will be distributed and what will be done with our body.

During the presentation, Godfrey stressed the importance of basic legal planning for incapacity or death and encouraged the audience to develop, talk about and document their healthcare values. “Healthcare decisions are very personal,” Godfrey said. He added that the health care a person receives should be what’s important to them, not others. Godfrey also shared with the audience several resources he referred to as “value tools,” such as the “Go Wish Cards End of Life Game,” which is an entertaining way to discuss a difficult subject, and the Conversation Project, which offers a “conversation starter kit” to help people have what can be an admittedly awkward dialogue with loved ones.

Godfrey also outlined the basics of estate planning that everyone should have in writing. First, it’s critical to name a healthcare “proxy” so that your doctor can “focus on practicing medicine” and not on “tracking down” family members or others who could possibly make healthcare decisions for you if you’re incapacitated. You should specifically give this person “power of attorney,” which ensures they can make healthcare decisions on your behalf. Living wills that address your wishes on everything from feeding tubes to life-prolonging care are important as well.

Advance care planning is not just about old age, Godfrey reminded the audience. At any age, a medical crisis could leave you too ill to make your own healthcare decisions. Even if you are not now sick, planning for health care in the future is an important step toward making sure you get the medical care you would want—specifically if you are unable to speak for yourself (e.g., sedated or intubated) and doctors and family members are making decisions for you.

Godfrey then took the audience on a deep dive into the specifics of estate planning, discussing the benefits of direct deposit in continuing to receive income during worst-case scenarios away from work; the importance of setting up automatic payments on utility bills, and of ensuring your loved ones have a list of your emails and passwords to manage your bank and other accounts; and how to choose whether a will, trust or probate is best for you. He used compelling personal stories—both from his experience as an attorney and as a son assisting his own parents through the process of estate planning—in order to give the audience a clear picture of the process.

The webinar garnered rave review and ratings: When asked if the training was helpful in increasing their knowledge of estate planning, a full 100% of respondents answered that it was!

Mark your calendar for Consumer Action’s upcoming webinars: Sept. 9, on Tracking COVID-19 Economic Devastation; and Oct. 6, on the Impact of COVID-19 on Domestic Violence and Economic Abuse.

The Estate Planning for Healthcare, Finances and More During a Pandemic webinar is part of Consumer Action's COVID-19 Educational Project, made possible with major funding from Wells Fargo and additional support from AT&T, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, and Square.

 

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