I have always found it important to follow the motto “Hope for the Best, but Plan for the Worst.” When it comes to estate planning, this motto especially runs true. Today more than ever a proactive approach to handling one’s legal and estate planning affairs is essential.
There are a number of benefits to being proactive. A mentor of mine once told me that if I wanted to truly understand the concept, I needed to read Stephen Covey’s best-selling book entitled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” For those of you unfamiliar with this particular writing, Professor Covey’s first habit is to “Be Proactive.” He defines proactive people as those who take responsibility for their lives and do not find external sources to blame for their behavior or circumstances. Covey emphasizes that instead of reacting to or worrying about conditions or situations over which you have little control, proactive people focus their time and energy on the things they can control.
The different reactions—and frankly, stages of grief, worry and stress—we have encountered during the Covid-19 pandemic best illustrates the difference between proactive and reactive people. Over the past three months I have heard many clients, colleagues, friends and family say that they are putting off making any major plans and decisions, including seeking medical or financial advice, formulating their estate plans and drafting their advanced directives (such as Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney) until “things go back to normal.”
While one can understand the decision to avoid doctors and medical facilities, or to hold off on making any major financial decisions, the decision to delay estate planning seems particularly odd in light of the fact that a majority of victims of the Covid-19 pandemic were senior citizens or those with underlying health issues. If the possibility of becoming ill or incapacitated is greater due to a global pandemic, I would hope that this would be all the more reason to be proactive and ensure that the important estate planning documents (such as a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy and perhaps a Revocable and/or Irrevocable Trust) are prepared and ready to sign as soon as possible.
Fortunately, over the past three months I have also seen many seniors and others becoming more proactive, using the time in quarantine to arrange their affairs. These individuals have utilized this period to take inventory of their current financial affairs, to review any existing estate plans and advanced directives they prepared in the past, to examine the decisions they have made (including the individuals they selected as beneficiaries and agents), and to organize and prepare comprehensive lists of their assets and income. With this roadmap of information in hand and the help of their attorney, proactive clients then formulated estate and elder law asset protection plans to help fulfill their goals and objectives, such as estate tax planning, planning for the cost of long term care (home care / nursing home care) and protecting their life savings.
The simple exercise of merely listing one’s assets, income and objectives is an excellent example of being proactive. Once this is done, the next step of meeting with a qualified Wills, Trusts and Estates and Elder Law attorney becomes a less daunting and more redemptive experience. It allows individuals to get in the driver’s seat and take control over their situation and future decisions. If you have not taken the time to review your estate plan, beneficiary designations, assets and income, I urge you to do so now.
Being proactive is always the best choice, and it is never too early or too late to start planning for your future.
Lauren C. Enea, Esq. is an Associate at Enea, Scanlan & Sirgnano, LLP. She concentrates her practice on Wills, Trusts and Estates, Medicaid Planning, Special Needs Planning and Probate/Estate Administration. She graduated from Pace University School of Law Summa Cum Laude and is admitted to practice law in New York and Florida. Ms. Enea is the Sponsorship Chair of the Elder Law and Special Needs Section Sponsorship Committee of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), the Co-Chair of the NYSBA Elder Law and Special Needs Section 2020 Fall Meeting and the Publications Committee Production Editor for the NYSBA Elder Law and Special Needs Section Journal. She can be reached at (914) 948-1500 or at L.Enea@esslawfirm.com. Please visit www.esslawfirm.com for more information.