Financial Planning Waypoints During COVID-19: Be Your Own Protagonist

April 1, 2020

What will you do?

In between social media posts of Stephen A. “baby filter” rants, homeschool moms portrayed as legit superheroes, be-dazzled toilet paper memes, and biological weapon conspiracy theories, I came across an appropriate Venn diagram for us “science fiction/literary classic/”B” movie loving” type nerds in the world.  Dystopian Venn.jpgWhat would I do if I were a character in Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, Brave New World, or Fahrenheit 451?  If I had to decide between acceptance or exile, knowledge or willful ignorance, self-sacrifice for a greater good or self-preservation at all costs, resistance or compliance …life or death, what would I do?  Well, we have time to not only read these classics and watch some of these movies, but also many of us have time to ask ourselves and each other, “What will you do in the midst of a modern day global pandemic?”   This pandemic is real, and we have an opportunity to set examples for our oikoi and be specific about potential worst-case scenarios.

I shared the following with some of my friends on one of my social media feeds on March 19, 2020:

I think by the end of this, we will all be trying or determine who we can trust to relay info accurately, which media outlets are biased, how well the Earth heals itself when humans are made to “sit still”, and how selfish people groups can be (in many possible ways) in the event of a pandemic. Interesting stuff. If we can solve this problem relatively quickly with team work between the three branches of government and private industry, while maintaining core values related to individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness, aaaaand strengthening the family unit because we were forced to be the primary teachers of our children… We are going to be an even stronger nation…. Just my humble opinion.

So, let’s make the question more realistic…sobering…in light of our collective efforts to “flatten the curve” and the reality that the current mortality rate is estimated to be anywhere from 0.6% to 3%:   What are you going to do now that you have time to examine how our government works, which private companies practice corporate social responsibility, what your core values are, and whether your family unit is what you want it to be?  Do you have time to tackle a financial planning “waypoint”?

In my very first blog post, “Waypoints” I encourage readers to “start where they are” when it comes to financial planning and engage in activities that will help them live their best lives.  Take it one financial waypoint at a time.  On March 31, 2020 Chris Cuomo, news anchor for CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time announced that he tested positive for COVID-19.  Chris Cuomo StillFrom the basement of his home, he communicated his fears, concerns, and appeals to his audience to “do everything we can to avoid being sick,… for ourselves, for our families and those on the front lines saving lives…” with palpable authenticity.  I understand the danger of COVID-19 and my family practices the appropriate safety measures.  But for those of us that have not experienced the death of someone close that has succumbed to COVID-19 (pejorative nickname, “the Beast”), Mr. Cuomo came into our metaphorical cyberspace “living rooms” and professionally and compassionately communicated a maelstrom of emotions.  The financial markets don’t operate in a vacuum.  Our actions don’t operate in a vacuum.  Chris Cuomo’s announcement didn’t transmit through the airwaves or cyberspace in a vacuum.  This “beast”, COVID 19, is forcing our healthcare professionals to consider ventilator triage plans, social equality, whether it is safe to allow family members to be with loved ones during their final moments, and a range of ethical issues.  We…you…are in this space.

So, if you have time for a “waypoint”, and you don’t know where to start, consider this a good time to do a bit of basic estate planning in the case of severe illness or death.  Commit time, whether it is 15 minutes or an hour, on a regular basis, to invest in your estate planning waypoint.  Here are a few financial literacy terms to get you started.  This very small sample of the estate planning grammar universe consists of information gathered from several resources and placed in easy to understand, plain language.  As you learn more…do more.

advance healthcare directives Written instructions that let others know the kind of healthcare you want if you are incapacitated, seriously ill, and unable to make and communicate your desires to healthcare professionals in an emergency or at the end of life.    Examples are healthcare power of attorney, living will, do not resuscitate order (DNR) or physician orders for life sustaining treatment (POLST).  Some hospitals allow patients to complete an “allow natural death order” (AND), which authorized only comfort measures to provide control of pain and other systems.
agent one who is authorized to act for or in the place of another person or group (principal).  The agent has a legal responsibility to at in the best interests of the principal.
durable power of attorney A legal document used to select a trusted individual to make financial decisions if an individual (the principal) is incapacitated. Typically, a DPOA is in writing, dated, and acknowledged by a notary.
durable power of attorney for healthcare A legal document used to select a trusted individual to make health care decisions and determine medical treatment for an individual that is incapacitated (the principal). Typically, a DPAHC is in writing, dated, and acknowledged by a notary.
Estate Planning the process of managing an estate to determine how assets will be distributed, healthcare will be provided, financial decisions will be made, and loved ones cared for in the event of incapacity or death.  Legal documents such as wills, trusts, insurance and powers of attorney are used to manage and inform about decisions.
fiduciary a person or entity responsible for acting in the best interests of others — typically an investment client, a company’s shareholders or a beneficiary.
guardian A person or entity that is responsible for a person or property of a minor or incompetent adult.  Sometimes referred to as a conservator or committee. A guardian is a “fiduciary” that must “act in the best interests of others — typically an investment client, a company’s shareholders or a beneficiary.”
letter of last instructions A document that clarifies your intent for your estate after you die.  It can accompany your will and be very helpful for your executor, however it has no legal authority.
living will A legal document that states your end of life health care wishes and the life sustaining treatment allowed and not allowed if permanently unconscious or in the last stages of an illness.
personal representative An executive or administrator for the estate of someone that has died.  Personal representatives are fiduciaries for estate beneficiaries.
probate A process in which a legal court with appropriate jurisdiction determines the validity of a will, manages the distribution of an estate, or administers the affairs of minors and adults that cannot care for themselves.
will A legal written document that states how a person’s property will be distributed at death.

Chris Cuomo cautioned us not get “caught in the numbers” about COVID-19, because “they are “scary and out of context.”  While an argument can be made “for” or “against” the numbers thrown at us during this pandemic, may I suggest that during time you spend working on your “waypoint”, be exclusively devoted to your personal needs and wants for yourself and your family?   There are plenty of economic, financial and social concerns our country must address.  The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides $2 trillion in stimulus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Social distancing is the prudent and forced norm for now.  We are collectively, effectively, “flattening the curve.”  So, here is your chance to be your very own protagonist.  The Foundation for Financial Planning, the Financial Planning Association, and the XY Planning Network have networks of CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals that offer pro bono financial planning services for individuals during this COVID-19 crisis.  Estate Planning may be your waypoint of concern, or maybe a different financial planning area of concern is foremost in your mind; either way, pro bono and fee-based advice is available.

What will you do?