What Four Important Things Need to be Done with Your Documents Right Now to Protect Your Loved Ones?

By Elizabeth Bartlett, Trust Officer, Financial Planning Analyst, and Andy Hoffman, CTFA, CFP®, Private Client Advisor
June 10, 2020

During these uncertain times, protecting loved ones—both now and in the future—has become a top priority. Among other things, you may be considering your legacy and what steps need to be taken to finalize or update your estate plan.

Elderly woman and visitor
Because family dynamics and circumstances change over the years, failing to update important documents to reflect those changes can have unintended consequences and cause needless anxiety. Planning for the inevitable not only gives everyone peace of mind, it also ensures your intentions are honored.

By naming beneficiaries on your various accounts and insurance policies, your assets will in most cases transfer to the named individuals or trust without going through probate. Check all your accounts to make sure the right person is listed.

Beneficiary designations for retirement accounts can be a bit more complicated. Improperly naming a beneficiary can have serious income tax implications. Also, in 2019, the SECURE Act implemented new rules which impact the timing of distributions from an inherited IRA. Review beneficiary designations for these specific accounts and discuss any changes that need to be made with your advisor.

A solid estate plan allows for a smooth transition of your assets and may protect your loved ones from going through the costly and time-consuming process of probate. It may include a last will and testament or trust, pour-over will, living will, health care power of attorney, and durable power of attorney. (If you do not have these documents in place, you should strongly consider doing so.)

Along with your beneficiary designations, it’s important to regularly review your estate plan with your estate planning attorney or professional advisor to ensure your intentions are clear. Make sure the documents provide clear direction regarding your care should you be unable to communicate your wishes. Also, verify the documents properly account for current estate and income tax laws, which have changed considerably over the years.

Due to the current health crisis, a living will, health care power of attorney, and durable power of attorney are more important than ever. These documents clearly outline your wishes regarding health care and medical decisions and appoint individuals to act on your behalf should you become incapacitated.

Check to see if you need to modify your documents for COVID-19 situations that may arise. Current planning documents may reference restrictions against certain emergency treatments, such as intubation or experimental therapies. One could also expressly authorize their designated health care agent to communicate life-care decisions through electronic means, including video message or email. A health care power may also provide protection for medical providers for acting on decisions communicated electronically. Separate state laws may grant further rights, please consult with an attorney licensed in your state of residence.*

When appropriate, take time to share your wishes with your loved ones and let them know where your important documents are stored. If possible, provide copies of important documents to those who may need them (e.g., successor trustee, executor of your will, appointed health care power of attorney and durable power of attorney, life insurance policy beneficiaries, etc.). Moreover, it may be helpful to prepare a checklist of your accounts including where they are held and who should be contacted if something were to occur. By taking a proactive approach, those you care about most will be well prepared and provided for when you’re gone.

*Source: Susan Joy Bruno, “Eight Steps for Updating Health Care Documents,” March 25, 2020; .

The opinions and other information in the commentary are provided as of May 13, 2020. This summary is intended to provide general information only, and may be of value to the reader and audience.

This material is not a recommendation of any particular investment strategy, is not based on any particular financial situation or need, and is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified attorney, tax advisor or investment professional. While Commerce may provide information or express opinions from time to time, such information or opinions are subject to change, are not offered as professional tax or legal advice, and may not be relied on as such.

Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed, and is subject to change.



Elizabeth Bartlett Trust Officer, Financial Planning Analyst Commerce Trust
Elizabeth is a financial planning analyst with Commerce Trust. She is a member of the financial advisory services team, a dedicated financial planning practice within Commerce Trust that provides objective financial advice to clients. Following a thorough assessment of a client’s unique situation and thoughts regarding wealth, Elizabeth develops holistic and coordinated plans to help clients meet their short-term and long-term goals as well as take full advantage of various planning, tax, and investment strategies along the way. Elizabeth joined Commerce Trust in 2013. She previously worked as private client associate at Commerce Trust. Elizabeth received her Bachelor of Science degree in public relations from Missouri State University.


Andy Hoffman, CTFA, CFP® Private Client Advisor Commerce Trust
Andy is a private client advisor for Commerce Trust. He serves as a consultant and relationship manager providing clients with personalized objective advice and oversight across all of our services, including trust administration, financial advisory services, private banking, and investment management. Andy facilitates all aspects of relationship management for the client team, including administering complex trusts, maintaining client communication, and coordinating with internal and external partners to deliver a superior client experience. He joined Commerce in 2016 with ten years of industry experience. Andy received his bachelor of science degree in finance/economics and MBA with a concentration in finance from Rockhurst University. He has achieved the designations of Certified Trust and Financial Advisor and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. Andy is a member of St. Ambrose Catholic Church and the Crusaders Club at St. Ambrose.