How an estate plan brings peace in a pandemic

by Christopher L. Kelly, Esq.

People often wait until major life events before they prioritize estate planning—perhaps a doctor gives an unexpected diagnosis or a difficult family situation emerges. The shared health crisis of COVID-19 is unfortunately giving us vivid examples of how quickly our health can deteriorate and how fragile life really is. As a result, many people are wondering what would happen if they were diagnosed with the disease.

A good estate plan not only lays out what happens to your possessions after you die but also includes provisions for your own healthcare in case you are ever unable to make health-related decisions for yourself.  

You can effectively plan for such a time through two documents: the Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (DPOAHC) and an Advance Directive (AD). With a DPOAHC, you appoint someone, referred to as an Agent, who can make healthcare decisions for you if you should become incompetent and unable to do so. Note that incompetence may be temporary, such as when under the influence of a prescription drug, or it can be permanent, as in the cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s. During your time of incompetency, your Agent would be able to confer with your doctors, review your medical history, and make healthcare decisions on your behalf—even decisions of life and death. 

Through an Advance Directive (AD), you are documenting the medical procedures that you do or do not want, should you be unable to express those wishes. For example, you can document your decision to refuse life support if you have a terminal illness, or specify that you want artificial hydration and nutrition if you are in a coma. The AD allows you to give guidance to the person or persons making these decisions as to how you would make them if you were able to do so.

If you are a Tennessee resident, you can utilize the Tennessee Advance Directive for Health Care form (download it here) to give these directions and to appoint your Agent to make healthcare decisions for you. 

To legally execute the document, it must be signed in the presence of a notary or two witnesses, but not both. (I recommend utilizing a notary, as I believe it adds formality to the document.)

If you haven’t done any of the above-mentioned estate planning, it’s never too early. Irrespective of the current crisis, the reality is that most of us will find ourselves at some point unable to make our own healthcare decisions, so making preparations for it will bring tremendous peace and certainty to you and those having to make decisions on your behalf. If you have any questions, please reach out to us at the telephone number below. We are more than happy to help. 

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Please note that the advice offered in this article is not intended to be construed as tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice for the reader. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.