As soon as the COVID-19 virus started making its way across the United States and Europe, I started getting the same phone call. “I guess I’m not the only one,” said an Escapee currently “stuck” in Europe and unable to leave due to the pandemic. “My husband and I need wills…just in case…we don’t make it.” The next call came from Arizona. “I’ve been meaning to do this…” said the woman on the other end of the phone… “now it seems really important…can you help?” she asked.
I’ll admit. Contacting an attorney and going through the process of getting your affairs in order is not easy. Sitting down and having a conversation with yourself, and perhaps your partner, about when you are no longer in this world is not an easy conversation. Most of us would rather not discuss the time when we won’t be here. Adding on to that the conversation about when we are still here, but incapacitated, is also not an easy conversation. But they are necessary. Especially with a virus that is reminding all of us that life is unpredictable, it is time to get these documents written or updated. The good news is that once you have gone through the process, you don’t have to go through it again unless there are “life changing” events. So, that “Last will and testament” that you put together twenty years ago will still be in force even if you don’t die for another forty years. The bad news is the same: that Last Will and testament that you put together twenty years ago and never revoked will still be in force twenty or forty years from now.
The Necessary Documents
In particular, you need three essential documents in place.
- You need a Will that has been properly signed and executed. In Texas that means that the Will is signed by the “Testator” (the person making the will) in front of at least two witnesses and a notary and that it has been properly notarized.
- You need a Medical Power of Attorney. That document says that if you are in a coma, for example, and need someone to make medical decisions for you while you are in the coma, you have named a person as your “medical agent”, giving them this power. We also have a “living will” as the first few pages of the Medical Power of Attorney. That document states your end-of-life wishes.
- You need a Financial Power of Attorney. That document says that if you are in a coma, you have named this person to be your financial agent so that they can make financial decisions for you while you are in the coma.
Documents and Domicile
An added incentive for the fulltime RVer: These documents will help to establish domicile for full-time RVers. For example, if you claim Texas as your domicile and show that you not only spent some time there, but also had your wills, powers of attorney and other related documents drafted in Texas under Texas law, it shows further evidence of your intent to make Texas your home.
Functions of Documents
So, what are the functions of these documents? There are documents that operate while you are alive (medical powers of attorney, financial powers of attorney and do not resuscitate [DNR] forms), there are documents that operate solely after one dies (wills).
Living: medical directive, medical power of attorney and financial power of attorney: These documents tell your loved ones your wishes if a catastrophic medical situation arises. They give your loved ones the responsibility of stepping into your shoes and making those medical decisions for you based on your request in the documents.
Living, but incapacitated: Financial Power of Attorney: This document is used when you are unable to make financial decisions about your life. This gives another person the right and responsibility to make financial decisions as if they are you.
After death: Will: The will is a blueprint that tells your chosen executor what to do with your belongings when you die. It can be general or specific, down to the ring you want to leave to one child, or a portion of assets you want to leave to grandchildren. It makes dividing your belongings easier for those you leave behind.
Discuss Your Plans With Loved Ones
Once you have completed the necessary documents for your estate (the will, medical and financial powers of attorney), have a family meeting with those who will be your caretakers or responsible for your estate. Talk about plans for your assets, who you have chosen to be the executor of your will and the agent for you if you are alive but incapacitated. Once you have that conversation, you can put the documents away in a safe place where they know how to find them. Then, you resume your RV lifestyle free from worry.
RVers who have these legal documents in place will help their loved ones with details in the event of a tragedy. It is a way to show you care. Take time to have your powers of attorney and wills created or updated. It is the greatest gift you can give your loved ones during a difficult time in their lives when you are no longer there or no longer able to make decisions for yourself.
K. Susie Adams SKP #134068
K. Susie Adams has been a lawyer for over 30 years, spending 15 of those years working as a trial lawyer. She also taught legal writing at the University of Houston Law School. From 2011–2016, she was executive director of Childrenz Haven, the Child Advocacy Center of Polk County, Texas. Susie and her husband, James Frost, reside in Livingston, Texas.