Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Law Empowerment Principles in the Time of Coronavirus
Principle One – Make Decisions about How You, Your People, and Your Things Should Be Treated
By Sheyna Burt, Esq.
Nothing breeds anxiety quite like the feeling of helplessness. Conversely, nothing relieves anxiety quite like finding, claiming, and using your power. This applies to life and to law.
In this series of articles, we will explore various “Law Empowerment Principles in the Time of Coronavirus,” things you can do during this period of upheaval to take control of what is within your control. Note that these articles are not intended to be legal advice and should not be received as such. Consult an attorney to discuss your specific situation and legal needs.
We will begin with Principle One – Make Decisions about How You, Your People, and Your things Should Be Treated.
Statistically, COVID-19 is unlikely to make you sick and if it does, you are more than likely to recover. None of us, however, has a “Get out of Coronavirus Consequences Free” card. With that in mind, communicating our preferences about our health, finances, property, and children is not just the responsible thing to do, it is powerful.
If you find yourself temporarily or permanently unable to make your own decisions, the last thing you want is for the people in your life to have to guess. You can and should decide what you want to happen and there are three core documents that can capture the results of that decision-making: An Advanced Healthcare Directive; a Springing, General, Durable Power of Attorney; and a Will.
An Advanced Healthcare Directive, sometimes called a Living Will (“AHD”), allows you to express in writing your preferences about the kind of care you want to receive in the event of your incapacity. You also can use an AHD to identify an agent to make decisions for you and communicate with your healthcare providers. How do you feel about life-prolonging procedures? Artificial nourishment? Pain medicine? With a properly-prepared AHD you get to “make” those decisions even when you are not able to address them directly.
A Springing, General, Durable Power of Attorney (“POA”) appoints an agent to make decisions and perform actions on your behalf. It can be as all-inclusive or limited as you wish. It is “springing” in the sense that the grant of authority lies dormant until a triggering event, say, a determination by your doctor that you do not have the capacity to make your own decisions. It is “general” because it can be comprehensive, covering a wide swath of life decisions, from paying bills to caring for pets to conveying real estate. It is “durable” because the POA continues to be active during the time when you are incapacitated.
A Will explains your wishes for your property after death and appoints the person you trust to carry out those wishes. A Will can be simple or detailed and even can spell out your preferences regarding the guardianship of your children and other dependents. Depending on the value and extent of your property, you might consider other options for distributing your assets, such as a Trust.
None of us can command how COVID-19 might impact us, but we are not powerless. We can protect our health by washing our hands frequently, maintaining a safe distance from others, and respecting the stay-at-home order. We can protect our self-determination by creating the legal documents that capture our wishes.
Check Back for Principle Two – Your Children Are Counting on You, You Can Count on the Law
Ms. Sheyna Burt, Esq., is an Attorney and Owner of The Law Office of Sheyna Nicole Burt, PLC, www.burtlaw.co, email@example.com, 571-659-2871