“Know Where Everything Is”
You recently received a newsletter from me for the first time in a while about the new Medicaid home care rules and pooled trusts. As some of you know, I was out of commission for a while at the beginning of the year due to COVID. It was quite an ordeal. I initially got sick and then my partner caught it from me, and he died from it.
Although the grief is not finished with me and this is hard to write, I want to share some important insights with you, because COVID is still not finished with us. As we go through another surge of cases and move into the Fall, there are some things we should all be thinking about in order to avoid being blindsided if you or a family member gets sick.
We had done a will and advance directives for my partner previously. More recently, I had done his mother’s estate planning with an eye toward getting her onto the Medicaid home care program after having paid privately for care for many years. Then on December 30th, she passed away. Fortunately, we were able to get her assets into a trust and were able to avoid probate. So, in January, we had begun the process of getting assets transferred to her adult children – my partner and his sister. Once this happened, we could take care of protecting the assets for him. Then, in mid-January, I became sick with COVID. Then a week later, he got COVID as well. We both got COVID pneumonia, but I did not have to be hospitalized. He did.
For some reason, even though he had all the comorbidities that lead to a bad result, we were thinking he would recover. Then they called me and told me they were moving him to ICU and putting him on the BiPAP machine because he wasn’t able to get enough oxygen with the nasal cannula. He seemed more comfortable on the BiPAP, and I thought that was a good sign.
Nevertheless, with his permission, I drafted a trust for him in order to get his assets in order. I drafted a trust and then had to get the assets moved. In order to do this, I needed his Power of Attorney. Even though I had prepared it, he had put it somewhere safe, and I did not know where it was. I had to do so much scrambling – from my sick bed – to get all this done. I was sitting at my computer and on the phone with institutions constantly. This was really hard, not only because of what it was, but because I was really sick and not at all up to it. I was in a full panic, dealing with him and the hospital.
Now, these are the types of things I typically handle for clients, but when it came to handling it for my own family, it was a different story. I can only imagine what someone who isn’t in the business would be going through.
During this scramble, the doctor told me he wasn’t improving and was headed toward needing a ventilator – and that the likelihood of mortality at that point was greater than 90 percent. I have no idea why I was so shocked to hear that. Sure enough, he did go on the ventilator, and he did pass away. I was just about fever free at this point, but the nonstop crying definitely hampered my own recovery. I was on antibiotics for a sinus infection two times over the next two months.
What this experience really drove home to me is something I already know: the importance of having your ducks in a row. Remember, we had the advantage of already having done our estate planning documents. As such, this is not totally a shoemaker’s kid story. Had we not, this story would have a different ending – I would be probating an estate and I would be doing all kinds of things in addition to grieving and trying to recover from COVID myself. With that in mind, I wanted to provide three tips you can use to avoid a similar nightmare situation.
Lesson 1 from COVID
Know where everything is. Know where the originals are.
People often do their will, power of attorney, and health care proxy in a hurry, perhaps before they go into the hospital for a surgery (which was the case here a few years ago), or before they take a big trip. Maybe they leave them on the table while in the hospital or while away, and once the surgery or trip is over, they kind of forget about them and move on. Don’t do that!!
Before you leave the lawyer’s office, decide who will hold onto the originals and where that person will keep them. If you hold onto them, decide where you will keep them – and tell your family where they are. Your attorney will typically scan the executed documents, so make sure you also receive a digital copy of them. You should have both a digital copy and the originals in a specific spot and your family should know where they are and how to access them.
In addition, you should maintain a directory where all your documents are located and all your accounts – including retirement accounts, investment accounts, annuities, life insurance, crypto currency and any other type of assets. You should keep a digital copy and a physical copy of the directory and let your family know how to access it.