The number of Americans who have died in the last few months because of COVID-19 is staggering, reports Inside Indiana Business in an article that advises readers to “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now.” Just talking with family members about your wishes is not enough. You’ll need to put the proper legal documents in place. Writing an advance directive is necessary. And the good news is, it’s not that hard.
A mere one in three Americans has completed any kind of advance directive. In particular, younger adults tend to put off this task, a strategy which has proven to be a disastrous approach. Both Terri Schiavo and Karen Ann Quinlan were only in their twenties when they were not able to make their wishes known. Family members fought in and out of court for years. Learn more about this case here.
The clinical realities of COVID-19 make it increasingly difficult for healthcare workers to determine their patient’s wishes. Visitors are not permitted, and staff members are overwhelmed with patients. COVID-19 respiratory symptoms come on rapidly in many cases, making it impossible to convey end-of-life wishes.
Planning is important. But what is an advance directive? Advance directives are written instructions regarding health care decisions, if you are not able to communicate your wishes. They must be in compliance with your state’s laws. The most common types of advance care directives are the durable power of attorney for health care and the living will.
A durable power of attorney for health care names a person, usually a spouse or family member, to be a health care agent. You may also name alternative agents. This person will be able to make decisions about your health care on your behalf, so be sure they know what your wishes are.
A living will is the document that states your wishes about the type of care you do or don’t want to receive. Living wills typically concern treatments like CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), breathing machines (ventilators), dialysis, feeding tubes and certain treatments, like the use of an IV (intravenous, meaning medicine delivered directly into the bloodstream).
Studies show that people who have properly executed advance directives are more likely to get care that reflects their stated preferences.
Traditional documents will cover most health situations. However, the specific symptoms of COVID-19 may require you to reconsider opinions on certain treatments. Many COVID-19 patients need ventilators to breathe and do subsequently recover. If in the past you wanted to refuse being put on a ventilator, this may cause you to reconsider.
Almost all states require notarization and/or witnesses for advance directives and other estate planning documents to be valid. Many states, including Indiana and New York, now allow for remote notarization.
Talk with your estate planning attorney about putting all of your estate planning documents in order.
Reference: Inside Indiana Business (June 8, 2020) “Get Your Advance Directives in Place Now”
As technology continues to advance and we are increasingly living more of our lives online, accruing digital assets, it’s time to think about what our digital legacy will be, says The Scotsman in the article “The ghost in the machine—what will happen to online you after death?” In our increasingly digital world, we’ve shared the news almost immediately when a celebrity dies, grieved when our online friends die and been touched by stories of people online who we have never met in RL — Real Life.
Most of us have digital assets and online accounts. It’s time to think about what will happen to them when we die.
Estate planning attorneys are now talking with clients about their digital assets and leaving specific instructions about what to do with these online accounts and social media, after they pass.
There’s a trend of creating video messages to loved ones and posting them online for the family to see after they pass. Facebook has a feature that allows the page owner to set a legacy contact to manage the account, after the account owner has died. Other technologies are emerging to allow you to gather your digital assets and assign an individual or individuals to manage them after you die.
It is now just as important to think about what you want to happen to your digital assets, as it is to your tangible, earth-bound assets when you die. What’s also important: considering what you want to happen to your data, how accessible and enduring you want it to be and how it will be protected.
People in their older years have seen amazing leaps and changes in technologies. We’ve moved from transistor radios to VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray. We’ve gone from land line home phones to smart phones that have the same computing power or more than a desktop. The first social media site was launched in 1997, and websites like Myspace have come and gone.
Will the current websites and software still be available and commonly used in five, ten, fifty, or one hundred years? It’s impossible to know what the world will look like then. However, unless a plan is made for digital legacies, it’s unlikely that your digital legacy will be accessible to others in the near and far future.
Here’s the problem: even if your executor does succeed in memorializing your Facebook page, will there be things on the page that you don’t want anyone to see after you’ve gone? There’s a wealth of data on social media to sift through, including items you may not want to be part of your digital legacy.
Consider the comparison to people who lived during previous ages. We may not be able to see their lives online, but they have left behind physical artifacts—letters, diaries, photographs—that we can hold in our hands and that tell us their stories. These artifacts will survive through the generations.
A digital estate plan can ensure that your data is managed by someone you trust. Talk with your estate planning attorney to learn how to put such a plan in place, when you are creating your legacy. Your last will and testament is a starting point in today’s digital world.
Reference: The Scotsman (May 16, 2019) “The ghost in the machine—what will happen to online you after death?”