Trust Estate

Planning Ahead For Illness, Disability

Matthew Erskine, April 29, 2020


The author of this article is confronting the kind of necessary steps that people need to take and documents to put in place if serious illness or disability strikes.

The article is by Matthew Erskine, managing partner, Erskine & Erskine, who talks briefly here about uncomfortable subjects of illness and disability that have, of course, been given added urgency because of the global pandemic. Besides certain well-trodden areas on wills, or life insurance and related estate planning, are matters such as how those caring for affected individuals can access data and ensure that it stays safe. 

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“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven” (Matthew 24:36)

As a fourth generation estate planning attorney, I can tell you that no one really does know when they may fall ill or die. This is always true, but not something that is in the forefront of people’s minds until some event, like the COVID-19 virus pandemic, brings this uncertainty into focus. Turning to an estate planner is not usually top of mind, but our experience can help you reduce clients’ fear and anxiety that falling ill can create.

The first thing to discuss is how to prepare for even a temporary incapacity, like creating documents to allow another to care for children and pets if there’s a long stay in the hospital.  Beyond paying bills, other questions come to mind, i. e. having someone secure firearms and other tangible property in your client’s home that might be stolen, and even the need to have someone clean out perishable food in the refrigerator.  

Further, in this digital age, there’s the need to establish who can access your client’s data if incapacitated, and provide passwords and usernames, as well as the document to give someone the authority to act on your client’s behalf as a durable power of attorney (this appointment of an agent to act can be a general power or a limited power). 

The second thing to be done is for your clients to tell people what they would like to have done. This can be in the form of a letter, but to make those wishes legally binding it will need to be in the form of a will or a trust. Some things clients can decide for themselves, such as funeral arrangements with a prepaid funeral contract.  
Other things, however, may be circumstances that are unforeseeable, so giving more general instructions is also necessary, including: 

Do your clients have all necessary planning documents?

Estate planning document checklist:
-- Durable power of attorney; 
-- Health care proxy; 
-- Will; 
-- Revocable trust; 
-- Irrevocable trusts; 
-- Declaration of homestead; 
-- Beneficiary designation forms;  
-- Retirement accounts; 
-- Life insurance; and 
-- Annuities.  

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