Currently, we are all self-quarantining. When you rarely leave your home, you see how difficult it is to accomplish daily tasks. Basic things that need to get done simple aren’t getting done. We are putting off to tomorrow what we cannot do today.
The government wants to get American workers back to work. But even when America does get back to work, the economy is not going to come roaring back. If you’ve gone out for a walk lately—and I know you have because what else is there to do?—your fellow walkers cross the street in order to maintaining social distancing from you. People wear masks and gloves when they go food shopping, then they come home take off all their clothes and take a shower. It’s unlikely that in a month we’ll be happy to be on a crowded train to work or in a crowded elevator.
And if you are over the age of 70, you have to feel as if you are in the danger zone with coronavirus given the way the experts talk about how the disease affects older people. If you are retired and have no need to return to work, you’re probably going to be hesitant to go out of the house for anything except the most essential items for quite some time.
For years, I’ve been drafting estate planning documents for my clients, and I’ve been telling them about the importance of the three basic estate planning document—a last will and testament, a financial power of attorney, and an advanced healthcare directive. Of the three basic estate planning documents, I have always believed that the most important is the financial power of attorney, and the coronavirus crisis proves this thought.
Without a financial power of attorney, no one can make financial decisions for you. Many people believe that if they are married, their spouse can make financial decisions for them, but this is not true. Similarly, your children cannot make financial decisions for you simply because they are your children.
A power of attorney permits someone else to make decisions for you. The person named to make decisions for you is called your “agent.” If you were married, you would probably name your spouse to make decisions for you, but you can name anyone you wish. I typically recommend that a person name a primary agent and a secondary agent just in case the primary agent is unavailable or unable to act.
I also typically recommend that my clients make their power of attorney effective immediately. In most cases, the client does not expect the agent to actually use the document immediately, but by making it effective immediately, the agent will be able to make decision the moment he needs to make decisions. The agent will not have to prove that the client is unable to make decisions for herself, which makes the document easier to use. I also find that banks are more likely to rely on the power of attorney document if the agent is authorized to act immediately without having to prove that the client is unable to handle her own affairs.
Nowadays, with the coronavirus crisis, an immediately-effective power of attorney could come in very handy for an elderly person who fears leaving the house. Because the document is effective immediately, a child of the client could use the power of attorney document to carry out any financial task that the client needs accomplished. The child, not the elderly client, could go to the bank or brokerage house.
A power of attorney can permit the most vulnerable members of society to continue to self-isolate, even when Americans start to go back to work. It’s likely that this disease will be around for many months, if not a year or more. In that time, many decisions will need to be made, many tasks will need to be accomplished. Most of the people who typically come to see me would benefit from having a power of attorney document that allows a younger family member to do for the client what the client should not be doing for herself in these times.