The outbreak of COVID-19 has left many of us feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Some Oregonians may have found themselves contemplating their own mortality. You may also be concerned about the well-being of an elderly or vulnerable loved one. Considering your estate planning needs and goals can give you peace of mind during these uncertain times. From establishing or updating your will, to ensuring that the appropriate powers of attorney and health care surrogates are in place, or having a guardian appointed for a incapacitated relative, an Oregon estate planning attorney can assist you with estate planning during this unprecedented and unpredictable health crisis.
As the past few months have made all too clear, the coronavirus has made it nearly impossible to plan for the future. Although Oregon is slowly reopening as the spread of the virus slows, the threat of resurgence will be present until there is a vaccine. The good news is that in addition to the important safety measures available to reduce risk, there are a number of estate planning steps you can take now to protect you and your family should you or a loved one become ill. First, you want to have documents in place that allow another person to make decisions for you relating to health care and/or your finances in the event you become incapacitated. A durable financial power of attorney assigns another person to make financial decisions for you while a healthcare power of attorney (sometimes referred to as a health care proxy) provides for a certain individual to make healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so for yourself.
A living will (also known as an advance directive) outlines the kind of medical care you want if you are terminally ill, for example, whether you wish to be kept alive on life-support systems. Oregon also has a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) program, which was designed to assure that the medical treatment wishes expressed by a patient are honored by health care professionals as the patient moves from one health care setting to another. This is particularly important in the context of COVID-19 in which a patient’s condition can deteriorate rapidly and not all healthcare facilities are equipped with the life-saving equipment needed to treat the virus. Your primary care physician can assist you or your loved ones with communicating goals of care with the Oregon POLST Registry.
Regardless of how simple or complex the estate is, everyone should have a will. This is a legal document that directs the distribution of your assets after death and can appoint guardians for minor children. Without a will, your state’s laws decide who gets your assets and other property upon your death. If you do not already have a will, now is the perfect time to prepare one. If you do have a will but the coronavirus has had a significant impact on your life, such as the loss of a job or the death of a family member, it is important to revisit and update your estate plan to reflect any change in your personal circumstances.
If you are concerned about an elderly relative’s ability to navigate the pandemic and to make decisions about healthcare and/or finances, you may want to consider becoming a guardian. In evaluating a petition to be appointed as a guardian, a court will consider whether: the person is incapacitated (unable to make decisions about his or her own health and safety); a guardian is necessary to oversee the care and supervision of the person; and the proposed guardian is qualified, suitable, and willing to serve. Notably, Oregon law gives preference to a family member to act as guardian.
While coronavirus restrictions remain in place, an Oregon estate planning lawyer can assist you virtually. However, Oregon requires estate planning documents to be witnessed and notarized, and Oregon does not currently permit remote notarization. Although a bill was introduced in March in the U.S. Senate that would allow electronic and remote notarization nationwide, no further action has been taken on the proposed legislation. Thus, for the time being, Oregon estate planning documents must be notarized in person.
If you need assistance with coronavirus estate planning, we welcome you to contact Litowich Law. Based in Salem, we serve clients throughout Oregon and are dedicated to helping to protect you and your family now and for the future.