Lantern is a startup looking to ignite a conversation about how to die well

By Danny Crichton

America is a land of paperwork, and nowhere is that more obvious than at the end of someone’s life. Advanced care directives have to be carefully disseminated to healthcare providers and strictly followed. Property has to be divided and transferred while meeting relevant estate laws. And of course, there are the logistics of a funeral, cremation or other option that has its own serious complexities, costs and choices.

The worst time to figure out how to die is when you die. The best time to figure it out is precisely when you don’t have to.

For New York City-headquartered Lantern, the goal is to initiate those conversations early and give its users significantly better peace-of-mind, particularly in these dolorous times.

The company offers essentially a “how-to” platform for beginning to prepare for end-of-life, offering checklists and monitoring to ensure that the vast majority of details are figured out in advance. In some cases, the startup will handle the underlying details itself, while in other areas like estate planning, it works with partners such as Trust & Will, which we have profiled a number of times on TechCrunch.

Right now, the company has two plans: a simple free one and a $27 / year plan that tracks your progress on end-of-life planning and allows you to collaborate with family, friends or whoever else needs to be part of your decision-making. The company is in the process of adding other à la carte options for additional fees.

Last month, the company raised $1.4 million in a seed round led by Draper Associates with a few other firms involved. Earlier, the company raised a pre-seed round of $890,000 from the likes of 2048 Ventures, Amplify and others, bringing its total raised to date to $2.3 million. The company is organized as a public-benefit corporation and was founded in September 2018, and first launched a year later.

For founders Liz Eddy and Alyssa Ruderman, Lantern was an opportunity to tackle a looming problem in a compassionate and empathetic way. “I started my first company when I was 15,” Eddy, who is CEO, said. That company focused on dating abuse and domestic violence education for high school and later college students. “I really fell in love with the pace and variety of starting something new, but also in creating conversations around topics that people really don’t want to talk about and making it more palatable and comfortable,“ she said.

Later, she joined local suicide prevention nonprofit Crisis Text Line, which has an SMS-based network of crisis counselors who are trained to calm people and begin their process of recovery. She spent more than six years at the organization.

As for Ruderman, who is COO of Lantern, she most recently spent two years at Global Citizen, a nonprofit organization focused on ending extreme poverty. The two connected and incubated Lantern at startup accelerator Grand Central Tech.

The idea for better end-of-life planning came from personal experience. “I lost my dad when I was in elementary school,” Eddy said, “and saw firsthand how loss and grief impacts a family financially, emotionally, logistically, legally — every aspect.”

Today, many of these processes are offline, and the online products mostly available today are focused on individual elements of end-of-life planning, such as estate planning or selecting and purchasing a casket. Eddy and Ruderman saw an opportunity to provide a more holistic experience with a better product while also initiating these conversations earlier.

That pre-planning part of the product was launched just as the pandemic was getting underway last year, and Eddy said that “we had a sort of a really interesting launch where people were starting to come to terms with their own mortality in a way we hadn’t seen in a very long time.” Typical users so far have been between 25 and 35 years old, and many people start planning when they have a major life event. Eddy says that the death of a family member is an obvious trigger, but so is having a baby or starting a company.

One aspect that Eddy emphasized repeatedly was that having a will and pre-planning for end-of-life are not equivalent. “Even if you don’t have a dollar to your name after you pass away, there are a ton of other things that your loved ones, family members, whoever’s responsible has to consider,” she said.

From a product perspective, there are some nuances compared to your more typical SaaS startup. For one, the company needs to engage you regularly, but not too frequently. Unlike, say, a wedding, which is a single event that then is over, your documents and directives need to be occasionally edited and updated as a user’s life circumstances change.

Beyond that, one of the largest challenges with a product that talks about death is building a connection with a user that doesn’t seem cold, and, well, Silicon Valley-like. “Even as a product that is entirely virtual, making sure that you really feel that human connection throughout” is a high priority, Eddy said. “We use a lot of empathetic language, and our imagery, all of the illustrations are done by illustrators who have lost someone in memory of the person who’s lost.”

Longevity startups may remain a thesis for some VC investors, but handling the end — no matter when — is an activity every person faces. Lantern might shine just a bit more light on what is otherwise a debilitating and scary prospect.

Complete Article HERE!

What to Do When a Loved One Dies

Advice to keep a sad event from becoming even more painful

By Consumer Reports

Responsibility for the various actions can be divided among family members and close friends of the deceased.

Immediately

1. Get a legal pronouncement of death. If no doctor is present, you’ll need to contact someone to do this.

  • If the person dies at home under hospice care, call the hospice nurse, who can declare the death and help facilitate the transport of the body.
  • If the person dies at home unexpectedly without hospice care, call 911. Have in hand a do-not-resuscitate document if it exists. Without one, paramedics will generally start emergency procedures and, except where permitted to pronounce death, take the person to an emergency room for a doctor to make the declaration. Keep in mind that do-not-resuscitate laws vary at the state level and if a person does not want to be resuscitated, “calling 911 is not necessary” according to the National Institute on Aging. “If the death is not unexpected, you might call the individual’s physician first,” says Lori Bishop, vice president of palliative and advanced care at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
  • 2. Arrange for transportation of the body. If no autopsy is needed, the body can be picked up by a mortuary (by law, a mortuary must provide price info over the phone if you ask for it) or crematorium.

    3. Notify the person’s doctor or the county coroner.

    4. Notify close family and friends. (Ask some to contact others.)

    5. Handle care of dependents and pets.

    6. Call the person’s employer, if he or she was working. Request info about benefits and any pay due. Ask whether there was a life-insurance policy through the company.

    Within a Few Days After Death

    7. Arrange for funeral, memorial service, and burial or cremation. Search the person’s documents to find out whether there was a prepaid burial plan. Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the mortuary. Prepare an obituary.

    8. If the person was in the military or belonged to a fraternal or religious group, contact that organization. It may have burial benefits or conduct funeral services.

    9. Secure the person’s home. Or ask a friend or relative to keep an eye on it, answer the phone, collect mail, throw food out, water plants, and keep minimal heat on to avoid frozen pipes if it’s winter in a colder climate.

    Up to 10 Days After Death

    10. Obtain the death certificate (usually from the funeral home). Get multiple copies; you’ll need them for financial institutions, government agencies, and insurers.

    11. Take the will to the appropriate county or city office to have it accepted for probate. Check your state’s laws, which may require you to file the will within a set period of time.

    12. If necessary, the estate’s executor should open a bank account for the deceased’s estate.

    13. Contact the following:

    • A trust and estate attorney, to learn how to transfer assets and assist with probate issues.
    • Police, to have them periodically check the deceased’s house if vacant.
    • An accountant or a tax preparer, to find out whether an estate-tax return or final income-tax return should be filed.
    • The person’s investment adviser, if applicable, for information on holdings.
    • Banks, to find accounts and safe deposit box.
    • Life insurance agent, to get claim forms.
    • The Social Security Administration (800-772-1213; ssa.gov) and other agencies from which the deceased received benefits, such as Veterans Affairs (800-827-1000; va.gov), to stop payments and ask about applicable survivor benefits. The SSA, like the VA, recommends immediately reporting the person’s death, though in many cases the funeral home will handle this.
    • Agency providing pension services, to stop monthly checks and get claim forms.
    • Utility companies, to change or stop service, and Postal Service, to stop or forward mail. Reach out to other companies to stop recurring bills and subscriptions. If home is vacant, contact the insurer to switch to a vacant policy. If home is under a mortgage, contact the lender.
    • The IRS, credit-reporting agencies, and the DMV to prevent identity theft.
    • Social media companies, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, to memorialize or remove an account.

    Know the Person’s Wishes

    For an elderly friend or relative:

    • Know the location of the will, birth certificate, marriage and divorce certificates, Social Security information, life-insurance policies, financial documents, and keys to safe deposit box or home safe. Ask the person to create an inventory of their digital assets (such as email, social networks, and digital files) and include a plan for these assets in their will.
    • Ask about the person’s wishes concerning funeral arrangements, organ and brain donation, and burial or cremation.
    • Have the person complete an advance directive, including a living will, which specifies wanted and unwanted procedures. The person should also appoint a healthcare proxy to make medical decisions if he or she becomes incapacitated. Some who are more seriously ill might also consider a Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment in addition to an advance directive.
    • Ask the person about end-of-life care, such as palliative and hospice care (which have key differences), and what their insurance will cover. Medicare, which covers most elderly Americans, will cover hospice care. Palliative care is growing in popularity, but “keep in mind that anyone with six months or less to live should have access to hospice,” Bishop says.
    • Have a do-not-resuscitate order drawn up if the person desires. That tells healthcare professionals not to perform CPR if the person’s heart or breathing stops and restarting would not result in a meaningful life.
    • Make sure the person gives copies of the documents to his or her doctor and a few family members or friends. Take the documents to the hospital if the person is admitted.

    Complete Article HERE!

Veterans can make an end of life care plan while healthy

By

Veterans have a way to tell their loved ones about their end of life care wishes in advance of any medical crisis.< Life-Sustaining Treatment Orders empower older veterans to communicate their final care wishes at the end of their life. “It is important to have these conversations during non-crisis times when patients have decision-making capacity,” said VA Geriatric Scholar Elkee Baker in a blog post.

Navy veteran Don Begg, 90, completed an order with the participation of.his wife, Beatrice.

“We did it together,” she said. “We talked about it. He was adamant about no resuscitation. He’s lived a good, long life and doesn’t want to be kept alive by artificial means.”

“It’s informative. It puts you in a good mood. You can understand what’s wrong with you,” shared Begg, a Korean War veteran.

Begg’s daughter, Molly Houssian, said knowing her father’s preferences gives her family peace of mind.

“He’s very aware of his situation and feels good about the life he’s led,” Houssian said. “It’s been a good experience for him. He’s been able to make decisions instead of his family scrambling to figure out what he wants as opposed to what he doesn’t want. It gives us peace of mind knowing he’s made that decision for himself.”

Baker said the reactions of both veterans and caregivers to the order have been overwhelmingly positive.

“Many discussions turn into meaningful and loving conversations. I heard statements such as, ‘I’m so glad we discussed this, Dad. I never knew you didn’t want that.’ And ‘I’m so glad you talked about this with my dad before he became so ill, because now I know what he wants me to do., she said

COVID-19 has heightened the need for conversations about end-of-life treatment plans

“It has never been more important to have goals-of-care conversations with our patients during this pandemic,” Baker continued. “We need to talk about potential complications from COVID due to advanced age and underlying health conditions and how this might cut the potential success rate of treatment options like ventilator support, for example.”

To learn more about the orders, visit here.

Complete Article HERE!

Are you prepared to die?

I am, and that’s the right way to live.

Barry Owen, my friend and former partner, hiking in California in 2017. In his final weeks, Owen completed the necessary to-dos in preparation of his death. He died a year after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

By Steven Petrow

I am prepared to die.

No, I’m not suffering from a terminal disease (as far as I know). Nor have I been infected with the novel coronavirus that causes covid-19. But thanks mainly to the pandemic I have been motivated to complete about 90 percent of the necessary steps for end-of-life planning. I have taken note of the nearly 202,000 Americans who have died unexpectedly from covid-19 or its complications in the past seven months.

Most of these people, it’s fair to say, were not planning on a sudden death. Many died alone in hospitals, and too often they didn’t have the opportunity to bid loved ones farewell. Caring.com reported that before the pandemic hit, fewer than half those 55 and older had completed estate-planning documents (such as a will, a living will, and designating a medical power of attorney). Among those 18 to 34, it was a paltry 16 percent.

The No. 1 reason for everyone: I haven’t gotten around to it.

Covid-19 has claimed the lives of several people I know in recent months; sadly, they weren’t the only deaths in my personal and aging circle. Barry Owen, 67, a friend and former partner, died of pancreatic cancer in May, a year after being diagnosed. Shortly after being told he had Stage 4 of the disease, he posted on his Caring Bridge site, “To borrow a line from ‘Grass,’ a favorite childhood poem by Carl Sandburg: ‘What place is this? Where are we now?’ ”

That question — “Where are we now?” — resonated for me as the pandemic spread unabated. Who knows when the bell will toll for thee?

Actually, I’m not alone in having jump-started my death planning.

Recently, the New York Times reported on just such a “boom” due to the pandemic. So many questions. Who do I want to act as my medical power of attorney? Why do I need a living will? Do I want to be cremated or not? What songs do I want played at my funeral?

Not surprisingly, there are now new Web services — with checklists — specifically for this kind of planning. One of them, Lantern, whose mission is to be “the single source of guidance for navigating life before and after a death,” reported a more than 120 percent increase in users since the beginning of the pandemic.

With the obituary pages growing ever thicker these days, I’m reminded of the nadir of the HIV epidemic when gay men dropped out of sight only to turn up in a death notice soon after. In 1986, at age 29, I’d been given an AIDS diagnosis, then synonymous with a death sentence. Fortunately, it turned out the doctors had erred in making my diagnosis. But during those weeks when I feared dying, I began to make an end-of-life plan.

I didn’t get far. I got only as far as engaging a lawyer to draw up a will when I learned that my lesion was not Kaposi’s sarcoma, one of the cancers associated with AIDS. No longer facing an untimely death, I put my head back in the sand — which is to say I stopped responding to his emails — and the lawyer actually fired me as an unresponsive client. When I pleaded for one more chance, he gave it to me and I completed my first “Last Will and Testament,” and a living will, too, that detailed what medical treatments I wanted — and would forgo — if I could no longer give consent myself.

In 2006, I added a codicil to that first will when I bought a house with my partner, Jim. Oh, and I designated him as my medical power of attorney, bumping my sister down to the “backup” position.

Still, as I crossed the threshold to 50 and then again to 60, I made no other plans. In 2018, a year after Jim and I legally separated (we’d married in 2013), a new lawyer castigated me for taking no action. By leaving things as they were, my soon-to-be-ex would still inherit my part of our house equity (rather than my siblings) and he’d be making life and death decisions for me in the event I was incapacitated. (Yikes!)

Again, I found myself stuck in denial — over the failed marriage, and that like everyone else I’d die one day, too.

By nature I am a procrastinator, but this pandemic — all those deaths — has forced a new reality on me. In recent months, I’ve taken various steps to make sure I’m ready — or at least “readier” — for what my friend and literary agent Richard Pine likes to call, “The End.”

My will and living will are now updated. (I got rid of all mention of my ex in estate finances or end-of-life decisions.) In our family cemetery plot, I’ve chosen my place, and there are new notes in a manila folder for a memorial service and an obituary, although I’ve not actually written a draft like other really well-prepared friends I know. With a nod to Leona Helmsley and her much-spoiled Maltese, my new puppy will go to previously agreed-on guardians, along with a crate, some kibble and some money to cover future costs.

If anything, like others these days, I’ve come to understand the importance of getting one’s affairs in order. Greg Brock, 67 and a retired journalist, frets about having unfinished business, especially after his sister “dropped dead” a year ago.

“It was a shock, and her children were left with so many headaches with her estate, including no funeral plans,” he said.

Since then Brock has vowed to get his “act together, starting with the end.” He has bought a grave­site and is now ordering the headstone, which he admits “will be weird.” He hopes that looking at his headstone will spur him on “to organize other aspects of my life.” Good luck, friend.

I’m impressed by those I know who have such lofty but wise intentions: To set things in order sooner than later. But “why do today what I can do tomorrow?” has long been one of my favorite mantras.

Well, I’ve now ditched that aphorism, thanks to Marie Kondo, author of the best-selling “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” I’ve gone though much of my stuff — applying her “delight test” — jettisoning and donating shirts and sheets, pots and pans, and bed linens and bandannas. (Although, had I known the pandemic would be still with us, I would have saved all those old bandannas to be used as masks/face coverings.)

The pandemic has also prompted me to say things I might not otherwise have. I’ve been making it a point to acknowledge those whom I love in a forthright manner, which has brought about reciprocal responses.

At the outset of the pandemic, I emailed Barry Owen a short note; at the time he appeared to be holding steady. I reminded him of our mutual friend, Denise Kessler, and explained that about the time she turned 90, we both “began ending all of our conversations with “I love you.” She and I continued that ritual until two weeks before she died at age 98, I wrote Barry, ending with the same message to him, “I love you.”

In his reply, he updated me on his condition. “No news is good news, which is to say, I’m still here.” He explained that he and Dan, his husband, “speak frankly with each other about death and what is it called? Oh yeah, end-of-life planning. But we don’t dwell on my condition or the future. We live our shared lives as normally as possible.”

And then he signed the email, “Love, Barry.”

In his final weeks, Barry completed the necessary to-dos in preparation of his death, his husband told me. And then he died, a year after his diagnosis, and a week after his first wedding anniversary.

By the time of his death, three months into the pandemic, I had finished my own death planning. I am prepared — but not ready to go.

Where to get help online

For those who need help getting started, here are some resources:

Lantern (lantern.co) is a free website with checklists and articles about end-of-life preparations.

Everplans (everplans.com) is a subscription-based online product for creating, organizing and storing your end-of-life plan.

The Conversation Project (theconversationproject.org) is a website focused on helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.

Complete Article HERE!

Resources for end-of-life planning, from wills to emergency health plans

By Sarina Trangle

The pandemic has prompted people of all ages to consider wills and emergency health plans.

At a minimum, lawyers recommend New Yorkers complete a health care proxy and consider a power of attorney, which, respectively, allow others to steer their treatment and finances, if necessary.

Here are definitions and resources to help with end-of-life planning:

Definitions and documents

When and why

Consider and codify your preferences when you’re healthy because documents cannot be finalized if there are questions about your ability to understand what you’re signing, said Maria Hunter, director of the public benefits unit at New York Legal Assistance Group, which provides free financial planning and legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers.

Be aware that if your wishes do not match the state’s framework, you will want to draft your own plans. Working with an attorney becomes more important when your preferences are “jumping the line,” according to Erika Verrill, attorney for the adult home unit at Nassau Suffolk Law Services, a nonprofit.

Health care-focused documents

Advanced directives guide care for people when doctors determine they cannot make their own decisions. Without advanced directives, state law lays out who may act as a surrogate and make decisions on your behalf in institutionalized settings. A court-appointed guardian would be the first person to assume that role. If that’s not feasible, the surrogate power shifts to a spouse, then an adult child, a parent, an adult sibling, and finally, a close friend.

A health care proxy empowers an agent to act on your behalf, when necessary, and may include specific preferences. A health care proxy can often be completed independently of a lawyer. The state Department of Health has forms available online at on.ny.gov/3je85hS, which must be signed by two witnesses.

Another option is a living will, which focuses on specific personal choices and may be used to advise an agent, caregivers or medical professionals.

Financial and administrative concerns

Estate planning refers to tools for managing financial, legal and administrative affairs.

A power of attorney document appoints an agent who can execute transactions and handle administrative affairs on your behalf. For instance, an agent could pay your bills if you were hospitalized.

A trust can be set up to ensure you meet financial eligibility requirements for certain government care programs and to protect loved ones, such as children, attorneys said.

Wills specify what will be done with your possessions after your death. Wills may be able to ensure that certain expenses are covered before your assets are used to pay debt, Hunter said. Absent a will, state law includes a formula for divvying up possessions after death. Default rules are outlined at HERE. For example, if you die with no spouse and no children, your parents inherit everything.

Complete Article HERE!

A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions.

Here’s what else you need

By Sarah O’Brien

  • A will is just one of several legal documents that help your loved ones know your end-of-life wishes.
  • If a person passes away without a will, a court may decide who gets their assets and who would care for any surviving children.
  • However, some assets pass outside of the will, including retirement accounts and life insurance.

As the coronavirus continues sweeping through U.S. communities and the death toll keeps rising, you might be considering your own mortality.

Regardless of the pandemic, experts say it’s important to plan for when you’re not here — that is, give thought to what would happen to your bank accounts, your home and your belongings, as well as, perhaps, your dependents.

That planning should start with a will. And apparently people know they need to take action, based on Google trends showing a jump in searches for information about creating one. 

“In every jurisdiction, if there isn’t a valid will, assets will pass on to your heirs by law, who may or may not be who you would have provided for in a will,” said Samantha Weyrauch Davis, an estate planning attorney and director with the law firm Hall Estill in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “It also lets you name a guardian for children.”

If you pass away with no will — called dying intestate — a state court decides who gets your assets and, if you have children, who will care for them.

This means that if you have an unmarried partner or a favorite charity but no will, your assets may not end up with them. Typically, the courts will pass on assets to your closest blood relatives, even if that wouldn’t have been your first choice.

However, a will is just one piece of an “estate plan.” An estate just refers to what you own — your financial accounts, possessions and any real estate. Putting a plan in place for those assets helps ensure that upon your death, your wishes are carried out and that family squabbles don’t evolve into destroyed relationships.

In other words, it’s partly about making things easier for your loved ones during an already-difficult time.

Here’s what else you should consider if you want to prepare.

What a will can and can’t do

A will is a document that lets you relay who gets what when you pass away. You can get as specific as you want (you leave a certain family heirloom to a particular person) or keep it more general (you want your surviving spouse to get everything).

However, there are some assets that pass outside of the will, including retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts, as well as life insurance policies.

This means the person named as a beneficiary on those accounts will generally receive the money no matter what your will says. (Be aware that 401[k] plans require your current spouse to be the beneficiary unless they legally agree otherwise).

Those [online] forms or software may not be compliant with your local law, so look at the fine print.

Samantha Weyrauch Davis
Director with Hall Estill

Regular bank accounts, too, can have beneficiaries listed on a payable-on-death form, also known as a POD, which your bank can supply.

If no beneficiary is listed on those non-will items or the beneficiary has already passed away, the assets automatically go into probate. That’s the process by which all of your debt is paid off and then the remaining assets are distributed to heirs. The process can last several months to a year or more, depending on state laws and what’s involved in handling your estate.

If you own a home, be sure to find out how it should be titled to ensure it ends up with the person (or people) you want it to, because the laws can vary from state to state. Moreover, there can be other considerations when it comes to how a house is titled, including protection from potential creditors or for tax reasons later when the home is sold.

Another big decision

As part of the will-making process, you’ll need to pick an executor of your will (sometimes called a personal representative).

This can be a big job, experts say. Things such as liquidating accounts, ensuring your assets go to the proper beneficiaries, paying any debts not discharged (i.e., taxes owed to the IRS), and even selling your home could be among the duties undertaken by the executor.

In other words, just because you’ve known your best friend since elementary school doesn’t mean handling the challenge of being an executor is up their alley.

Where to get a will

To prepare a will, you can turn to an estate planning attorney in your local area — to ensure familiarity with state laws — or use an online option. However, be aware that not all of the web-based alternatives will necessarily reflect the specifics of your state’s law.

“There’s risk in doing it that way,” Davis said. “Those forms or software may not be compliant with your local law, so look at the fine print.”

If an online option ends up being appropriate for your situation, you may be able to find a form to download for free. Software will-making options can run about $60 or more, depending on what else is included. To set up an estate plan with an attorney could run several hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on the complexity of your situation.

Also, you’ll need to have a witness and/or notary sign it and make the document official, depending on the state where you live. The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel’s website offers a guide to laws and accommodations in every state if in-person meetings are not permitted due to the pandemic.

Other documents

Typically, estate planning also includes preparing a few other legal documents. This includes an advance health-care directive, also known as a living will.

This document outlines your wishes if you become incapacitated due to illness or injury.

Say you are on life support. Instead of a loved one making the agonizing decision whether to end all life-saving measures, your wishes would be specified in a legal record.

It’s also worth assigning powers of attorney. If you become incapacitated, the people to whom you grant powers of attorney will handle your medical and financial affairs if you cannot.

Often, the person who is given this responsibility when it comes to your health care is different from whom you would name to handle your financial affairs.

As with choosing an executor, make sure whoever you hand the financial reins to is trustworthy and smart.

“I tell my clients it’s really important to carefully consider the individuals you name,” Davis said. “You want to make sure they have the ability, skill set, time and desire to make such decisions and do these sorts of things.”

Make a list of critical documents

While it can be hard to imagine your own death, picture your family having to search through drawers for your original will, documents regarding your bank accounts and other assets, and maybe even your Social Security number.

The best way to avoid forcing them to deal with that task on top of mourning is to leave an organized list of information that the will’s executor will need to settle your estate, experts say. Be sure this includes passwords so your online accounts can be accessed.

Consider a trust

If you want your kids to receive money but don’t want to give a young adult — or one prone to poor money management — unfettered access to a sudden windfall, you can consider creating a trust to be the beneficiary of a particular asset.

A trust holds assets on behalf of your beneficiary or beneficiaries, and is a legal entity dictated by the documents creating it. If you go that route, the assets go into the trust instead of directly to your heirs. They can only receive money according to how (or when) you’ve stipulated in the trust documents.

The average cost to set up a trust using an attorney ranges from $1,000 to $1,500 for an individual and $1,200 to $1,500 for a couple, according to LegalZoom.com. Doing it yourself with online software could run several hundreds of dollars or more.

Complete Article HERE!

End-of-life planning during the coronavirus pandemic, in 8 steps

How to make crucial financial and health care decisions for you and your loved ones.

By

Surely you’ve heard it’s a good idea to have a will, just in case anything should happen. Yet we tend to put off completing the paperwork — the documents are confusing and it can be distressing to think about our own mortality. A 2017 study found that only about a third of Americans have completed the necessary end-of-life forms.

The Covid-19 pandemic now has many scrambling to figure out how to get wishes into writing. The coronavirus has reminded us that mortality is unpredictable and so it’s a good time to get our medical and financial matters in order.

The benefits to doing so are many: peace of mind knowing that you will get the medical treatment you want; that your possessions and assets, many or few, will be given to those you choose; that you are protecting your family and friends from having to guess what you would want; and preventing the squabbles that could erupt from family disagreements.

But how to complete the necessary paperwork while in social isolation? In some ways, self-isolation provides the perfect opportunity to get your documents together, but finalizing them can be difficult when a notary and witnesses can’t be in the same room with you.

Signing off, online

On March 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made New York one of the more than 20 US states to allow remote online notarization of documents — providing a solution to the challenge of self-isolation. It is a temporary law, and no one knows what it will mean once the pandemic has subsided. New York state also requires two witnesses (laws vary by state) to sign some of these documents, a problem that the temporary notarization law does not explicitly address.

Peter Strauss, a senior partner at Pierro, Connor & Strauss and a founding member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, has instituted a protocol that he and his firm believe will accommodate remote witnesses. Using a video chat program like Zoom, GoToMeeting, or FaceTime, witnesses show their ID and are recorded signing the document by the notary public. Still, Strauss recommends revisiting all documents once your state has safely reopened and completing them in person.

Fern Finkel, a Brooklyn elder care lawyer, said she was concerned that the online notarization process, depending on how the witnesses are involved, could leave documents open to contest. She, too, advised that any documents completed now with online notarization be revisited in the future.

But she and other experts said it is still very important to take steps now to account for medical and financial contingencies should you become ill. “The pandemic is a reason to act, not to delay necessary planning,” Strauss said.

As far as medical contingencies go, “it is really important for doctors to always be guided by the voice and values of the patient,” said Dr. VJ Periyakoil, associate professor of medicine at Stanford and director of the Stanford Palliative Care Education & Training Program. To preserve patients’ voices, Periyakoil and her team have worked with patients to create “The Letter Project,” free and simple forms that help patients communicate their wishes to their family and doctors.

The letters, which are not state-specific and come in eight languages, provide a structured way for each person to think through these important, timely, and emotionally charged issues. They can be printed, filled out, and attached to any state’s forms, also available online. “Our goal is to democratize health care,” Dr. Periyakoil told me, “If people have to choose between groceries or advance directives, groceries are always going to win.”

To get yourself and your loved ones (legally) prepared, here are eight important steps to take.

What you should be doing right now

1. Organize. “The first thing you have to do is understand what you have,” Finkel said. Pull out all your existing documents and organize them in one place. Do you have a health care proxy (designation of a person to make your medical decisions when you can’t), a HIPAA authorization (designation of a person to access your doctor and medical information), a living will (statement of what medical treatments you want in various situations), an intent to return home, a power of attorney, a trust, and/or a last will and testament (statement of how you would like your assets distributed)?

Collect these items in one place in your home — a desk drawer, say, or a file box. (If your documents are somewhere else in a safe deposit box, leave them there — just make sure your family members know where they are.)

Once you’ve done an audit of these documents, you can arrange an online consultation with a knowledgeable attorney to help guide you through what needs to be done. (Justia provides a list of elder law lawyers, for example, or ask your friends for a recommendation.)

To this file, add other essentials that your family members might need should you be incapacitated: checkbooks, insurance policies, safe deposit box keys, Social Security card, passport, birth certificate, and other identification, mortgage, deed or lease for your home, and vehicle titles.

2. Beneficiary designations. During this crisis (or at any time), it is advisable to designate beneficiaries on all of your accounts. Take a look at bank accounts, retirement accounts, and investment accounts to see if they have a beneficiary designation.

“People don’t understand that how accounts are titled is supreme to what’s in a will,” Finkel said. For instance, if your will divides your assets equally among your three children but your oldest daughter is the beneficiary on a bank account, she will receive the accounts’ balance upon your death.

Which means that much of your property designation can actually be done remotely by requesting the appropriate form from your bank or financial adviser and returning it by mail. “If these forms need to be notarized, you can do so remotely,” Finkel said.

3. Health care proxy. If you are in isolation with others you may be able to fill out a health care proxy. The document — which varies by state — often requires two witnesses, like your home health aide and your best friend (neither can be your assigned agent). The proxy allows you to appoint an agent who will make your medical decisions should you become incapacitated. You do not need a lawyer or a notary to complete this form. (AARP provides links to these forms for every state.)

4. HIPAA. Everyone should complete a HIPAA form. “If you can’t get two witnesses [for a health care proxy] because you’re self-isolated,” Finkel says, “you can still do a simple authorization [the HIPAA form] to let your close people be able to speak to doctors.”

At a time when visitors are not allowed in hospitals or nursing homes, the HIPAA — an acronym for the law that protects patient privacy, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — will allow your designated loved ones to talk to your doctors about your status. Also, Finkel says, you can name as many designees as you want, just fill out the form with their names and contact information

Once you have completed a health care proxy and/or a HIPAA form, take a photo of them and share it with your designee. “I have HIPAA authorizations for my dad and my husband on my phone,” Finkel told me. They’re at her fingertips should she need them in an emergency. (You can access the HIPAA form here.)

5. Financial institution power of attorney. You can also complete a basic power of attorney form with your bank that designates a person to make financial transactions in those corresponding accounts. You can request the form and, if the institution allows, notarize it remotely. Some banks may have their own procedure, so check with them first.

“Do whatever you can right now to set up a designee for each of the banks you use,” Finkel recommended.

6. Direct deposit and direct pay. Now that you’re at home, it’s the perfect time to put all your bills and monthly payments online. Have your income deposited into one account and your regular bills auto paid from the same account. Heat, electric, gas, cell phone, cable, wireless, water — and your monthly rent or maintenance fee if possible.

“Get everything online, electronically paid, so that all of these things are seamless,” Finkel told me. Should you have to be hospitalized (hospital stays for severe cases of Covid-19 last an average of 10-13 days, with some lasting much longer), when you come home all of your services will be in place.

7. Passwords. While you’re setting up your bills for auto pay, organize all your online passwords. Once you’ve recorded the username and password for all of your utilities, do the same for your online accounts like email, social media, entertainment services, and other online platforms. Share this document with your most trusted person so that they’ll have it in your absence.

8. Have the conversation. This is also the time to talk to your loved ones about your health care and financial decisions. This difficult time might actually make the conversation easier for you and your family. “People around me are dying,” Finkel said. “We’re in a pandemic, and everyone is starting to see their own mortality. Let your loved ones know your wishes.” Tell the people you love where your documents are, and give your health care proxy, power of attorney, and HIPAA to your trusted agents named within them.

And there is one more important thing: “We can take this time to talk to our loved ones,” Periyakoil told me. “If there is one thing even more important than advanced directives, it’s really telling our friends and family how much we love them.”

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