Turning Lemon into Lemonade
By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney
The recent Coronavirus pandemic reminds us how important it is to be prepared. While many of us think we might have some control over the future, the reality is that this is just an illusion of control. One thing you do have control over is whether you plan for the future. Advance planning not only applies to having enough food in your pantry and hand sanitizer available, it also applies to your estate planning.
While many of us put off doing our estate planning, recent events have highlighted the fact you may not have as much time as you think to get your affairs in order. You may become incapacitated before you die and planning in advance can make things much easier for your family. If something were to happen to you, are your affairs set up?
If you have done your estate planning already, the most important documents to review are your advance health care and financial directives. The health care proxy allows someone to make medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated. It is important to note that even though you have signed a health care proxy, you still retain the right to make your own medical decisions for as long as you are able. A living will is a written expression of your wishes and desires in the event you are terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state. Do you want to receive treatment that may prolong your life or, do you want to receive palliative care during this time even if your life may end sooner? If you don’t discuss these issues with your health care agent, it may place a great amount of stress and anxiety on your loved ones.
The durable power of attorney will allow someone to step in for you to make financial decisions for you. Unlike the health care proxy, the durable power of attorney can take effect once you become incapacitated or it can take effect immediately upon signing by the principal and agent. Without proper financial management, bills may not be paid timely and assets may not be managed properly, among other things. The power of attorney document has become extremely complex over the past several years. We often meet with clients who have attempted to complete this document on their own without the benefit of an estate planning or elder law attorney and it is not uncommon for us to find a number of errors. Fortunately, if the client comes to us before they lose capacity, we can fix the problem. However, sometimes a family member contacts us, and it is already too late since the person is already incapacitated. The family is now confronted with the unpleasant choice of having to pursue a guardianship for their loved one. A guardianship proceeding involves going to court and is a costly, time-consuming process.
In summary, if there’s a silver lining to the Coronavirus crisis, perhaps it will motivate more people to review their estate plans. If it does, then perhaps we have made lemonade out of a lemon!
Bernard A. Krooks, Esq., is a founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP and has been honored as one of the “Best Lawyers” in America for each of the last seven years. He is past President of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA) and past President of the New York Chapter of NAELA. Mr. Krooks has also served as chair of the Elder Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. He has been selected as a “New York Super Lawyer” since 2006. Mr. Krooks may be reached at (914-684-2100) or by visiting the firm’s website at www.elderlawnewyork.com.