COVID-19: Time to update a health care proxy?

Learn why you need 3 key health forms: A living will, a health care proxy, and HIPAA.

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Key takeaways

  • With or without the COVID-19 pandemic, most people should have 3 key health-related legal documents in place: a living will, a health care proxy, and HIPAA authorization.
  • When naming a health care proxy, think about whether the person (such as a spouse/domestic partner, adult child, or trusted friend) has the emotional capacity to carry out your wishes.
  • You may be able to execute estate planning documents while you shelter in place at home. Work with your attorney to determine how much of the estate planning process, such as document execution and notarization, can be done digitally or remotely.
  • Consider drafting health care proxies for all members of your family, including adult children.

The pandemic reminds us all just how important our health is—and making sure we have the right plans in place for ourselves and our loved ones should we fall ill.

"Turning the responsibility for making key health decisions over to a loved one can be particularly challenging for many people," advises Christin Haley, vice president, advanced planning at Fidelity. "But planning in advance can help provide peace of mind to everyone involved."

3 health-related legal documents everyone needs

Generally, when it comes to making important health care and "life or death" decisions, the following key legal documents should be available to the family to ensure that your loved one's wishes are carried out:

1. Living will
2. Health care proxy
3. HIPAA authorization

What is HIPAA authorization?
A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization is a legal document that allows an individual’s health information to be used or disclosed to a third party, typically the individual named as health care POA. This waiver can be customized to some extent, allowing for sharing some information while keeping other information private.

Take the following steps to get health care documents in order and consider adding new COVID-19 directives:

  1. Locate your health care proxy, living will, and HIPAA authorization (and if you don’t have them, get them drafted).
  2. Confirm that the documents still reflect your wishes. Some questions to ask:

    - Is the named agent still appropriate?
    - Do you have back-up or alternate agents in case something happens to your designated POA?

  3. Review the documents to see if they need to be updated to reflect current circumstances. For example:

    - Consider whether or not you want life-prolonging medical treatment used if a recovery is unlikely.
    - Consider an update to the definition of "medical treatment" to specifically include the maintenance of respiration, nutrition, and hydration by artificial means.
    - Consider the definition of "extraordinary measures" and whether they might make sense under certain circumstances, such as the use of a ventilator in treating COVID-19 related illnesses.
    - Consider adding language for how your POA can communicate with medical staff and whether email, video conference, and other means of communication are acceptable.

Tip: Many estate planning attorneys now offer video meetings to assist clients with the process of reviewing and updating documents.

Authorizing your legal documents as you shelter in place

Financial services firms, including Fidelity, are reviewing online signature and notarization policies and procedures to better accommodate the remote execution of documents, including powers of attorney.

Tip: Check with your attorney to see if there is an option for online execution including notarization. You may be able to scan or fax documents to the notary public and then receive a notarized copy in return.

Align your HCP with your estate and financial plans

"Planning ahead is vital to helping your family find the information they may need especially during the uncertain times we're all living through," says Haley. "You should prepare and securely store a current inventory of key assets, a contact list of advisors, and a list of legal documents and other key information."

"Be sure to review the beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, retirement plans, and taxable accounts, and review the titling of the assets with the family's tax advisor and estate planning attorney to make sure they are aligned with your overall financial plan," she adds.

In hiring a qualified estate planning attorney, look to identify several candidates and speak with each of them to assess how well they fit. Be sure to ask each for an estimate of cost and what is included.

With COVID-19 in our midst, now may be a good time to hold a family meeting to lay the groundwork for a solid estate plan, including the addition of health care proxies for all family members, to help manage expectations for all involved.

Tip: For guidance on selecting an attorney to work with your family, read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: How to find an estate planning attorney and access the Fidelity Estate Planner®.

Next steps to consider



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