Unless you know someone who has been living in a cave for the past twelve months, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person who isn’t happy to see 2020 come to a close. Most people would agree that COVID-19 tops the list of horrible things the world faced. The record number of infections, the overwhelming number of hospitalizations, and the staggering number of deaths were bad enough.
When you add to that the widespread shutdowns of businesses and restaurants and the devastating economic impact the disease had in America and around the world, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been worse. The world economy shrank more this year than at any point since the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, though, the coronavirus was not the only troubling thing to hit in 2020. No matter where your loyalties lie, you’d probably agree that this year brought serious political tension, highlighted by only the third presidential impeachment in the history of our nation. Civil unrest was high, with protests breaking out from coast to coast. Tension was high internationally as well. Across the globe, we saw bombings, terrorist attacks, and plane crashes.
Don’t forget the natural disasters. Wildfires in Australia and in the western part of the United States brought severe devastation. Cyclone Amphan in India forced the evacuation of more than 4 million people and caused over $13 billion in damage. Multiple hurricanes ravaged Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi. There were earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods—and now we have “murder hornets” in the US!
With 2020 also came the deaths of several prominent figures that were heroes to many, from Kobe Bryant to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Chadwick Boseman. Yes, most would agree, 2020 can’t come to an end soon enough.
If we didn’t know it already, 2020 should have taught us that we all need a plan. It’s almost impossible to predict the future, but that doesn’t mean we can’t plan for it.
First and foremost, 2020 has prompted many to prepare healthcare directives with a sense of urgency, and rightfully so. When it comes to healthcare directives, you need to have three things: 1) a healthcare power of attorney, 2) a medical records release to deal with HIPAA, and 3) a living will or advance directive.
Each of these three documents does something different, so you can’t get by with just one or two. The healthcare power of attorney authorizes a person of your choosing to make healthcare decisions for you (big or small) when you cannot make them for yourself because of age, accident, or illness. But to ensure this person (called an agent) can obtain all the important health information he or she might need to make those decisions, you must have a medical records release of some kind to deal with the HIPAA restrictions your agent may face. And to guide your healthcare agent through the decisions he or she must make when it comes to end-of-life care specifically, you should also have a living will or advance directive. It is in this document that most people choose to state their desire that they not be left on machines if they are ever deemed permanently unconscious with no hope of recovery.
Healthcare directives are important—now more than ever—but your planning shouldn’t stop there. Another crucial document to have before you need it is a general durable power of attorney. This is the document that will allow a person of your choosing to make business and financial decisions on your behalf when you cannot handle those matters for yourself because of age, accident, or illness. From there, planning can go in different directions based on your age, the make-up of your family, and your mix of assets.
Some people need to have a Last Will and Testament to make sure the right person is in place to take care of their minor children. Others need to aggressively plan to stay out of an expensive and time-consuming probate court process through the use of a Living Trust or other estate planning strategies. Still others need more specialized planning because they see the possible need for long-term care around the corner and they don’t want to risk going broke in a nursing home.
Every family is different, so every plan is different. But no matter what stage of life you’re in, and no matter what year it is, you need a plan.