This is the next post in a series of articles in which we will discuss how estate planning can assist Hartford, Connecticut residents during the COVID-19 crisis. Our previous post discussed what happens to an individual’s estate and assets if they pass away without a Last Will and Testament. Absent specific instructions in a Will, Connecticut law will determine how the estate is distributed through statutes which designate the beneficiaries who will receive the individual’s assets. Failing to document one’s wishes in advance may lead to unintended results in the probate process. Preparing a Will as part of one’s overall estate plan can help avoid this situation. In this article, we will discuss how a Power of Attorney can be especially helpful to Connecticut residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you need assistance with estate planning matters, contact our office to schedule a consultation.
We have previously written a series describing the purpose and benefits of Powers of Attorney generally. In light of the current COVID-19 situation, one can imagine several circumstances in which a Power of Attorney may become especially helpful. When an individual issues a Power of Attorney, they grant another person, known as their agent, the authority to make decisions and take actions on their behalf. The scope of the powers granted to the agent may be broad, authorizing the agent to sign documents, enter contracts, conduct banking transactions, and more. Alternatively, a Power of Attorney can be limited to specific activities, such as signing documents for the principal during a real estate closing. These documents often authorize the agent to act only if the individual becomes incapacitated. It is possible, however, to grant the agent authority to act before incapacity occurs. In Connecticut, Powers of Attorney are considered “durable” unless specifically stated otherwise. This means they remain effective until the principal revokes the document, including after the person becomes incapacitated.
Powers of Attorney can be extremely important to residents who become seriously ill or who are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. For example, an elderly parent who suffers from asthma is advised by her physician to avoid public interactions during the pandemic. To comply with this advice and remain at home, she delegates authority to her adult child through a Power of Attorney. Her child is authorized to handle transactions that may have required her to appear in person, such as signing legal documents, conducting banking transactions, and paying bills. This arrangement allows her to stay home and avoid exposure. Should she become seriously ill or incapacitated, requiring quarantine or hospitalization, the Power of Attorney would allow her child to manage her affairs during the illness. Absent a Power of Attorney, the family would be required to establish a “conservator” through the probate court to act on her behalf. Having the document in place allows one’s family to act promptly without otherwise involving a potentially long and costly legal process.
During this unprecedented time, it is important to stay safe. A Power of Attorney can be helpful to protect vulnerable family members and friends. Consulting with an experienced attorney can help ensure that your document is legally valid and designed to accomplish your goals. If you need assistance with estate planning, contact our office today to speak with a Hartford lawyer. We also serve the areas of Wethersfield, New Britain, Rocky Hill, East and West Hartford, Bristol, Glastonbury, and Manchester, as well as the Middlesex County cities of Middletown and Cromwell.