Estate Planning During Coronavirus Outbreak

During these trying and frightening times, we are all aware of our own mortality as we see the infection and death rates of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is especially true if you are concerned about your heirs and dependents at this time. The last thing you want is for your estate to be tied up in probate with no clear path for distributing your assets.

There are many advantages of having a comprehensive estate plan, such as avoiding probate, tax savings, planning for incapacity and providing for minor children ― but perhaps most importantly, is peace of mind.

You can call us to go through what you will need to put your estate plan together, and we can provide you with model plans that you can use as the structure for yours.

Fortunately, most estate planning work can be done at home. You may not be able to physically meet with your attorney, but you can still create, update or finalize your estate plan. Most attorneys are working remotely and are available via e-mail, telephone and video conferencing to advise you.

Documents can be drafted and e-mailed to you for review, or delivered to you by mail or a tracked delivery service.

In general, there are four essential estate planning documents everyone should have in order.

 

The will

A will can ensure a person’s wishes are followed after their death in many regards. A simple document specifying where everything will be directed after death is essential when there are multiple heirs.

The will should also name the executor, who would be in charge of making decisions about the estate and paying bills. You should let the person you name as executor know you appointed them. At the same time, it’s not necessary to tell all heirs they are included, excluded or what they can expect.

 

Medical power of attorney

This document is sometimes called a health care proxy. It allows any designated adult to make medical decisions for a person if he or she is unable to do so. It is important to choose a person with trusted judgment who has the ability to stay calm during a crisis while still exercising good judgment.

 

Durable power of attorney

This document appoints another person as an agent to act with authority and make decisions for the creator of the power of attorney if they become disabled or are not capable of making their own decisions for whatever reason.

No person should take this decision lightly or make hasty choices. The role of power of attorney gives a person long-lasting power. The person chosen should be trustworthy and financially responsible. It is always important to name a backup person, as well.

 

Living will

Living wills, also known as advanced health care directives, specify the wishes of the creator for their end-of-life care. This includes topics such as life support, resuscitation and feeding.

It is important to sit down and talk to loved ones about individual wishes when it comes to living wills and medical power of attorney forms.

 

Next step

To ensure that people can finalize their estate plans at this trying time, lawyers are offering to:

  • Conduct the initial meeting by teleconference or videoconference,
  • E-mail and deliver documents for you to review at home, and
  • Make adjustments and finalize the plan by teleconference or videoconference.

 

State laws govern execution of wills. Some states require two witnesses and a notary, others only one witness. Some states allow for online execution of these documents, while other states don’t.

Witnesses who sign the will should not be party to the estate plan (such as heirs).

Some law firms are still open to provide this service, and some are doing house calls for executing the paperwork (with precautions such as disinfecting ahead of time, social distancing and wearing masks).

But you could also do it in your own home with witnesses present without a lawyer. However, there are rules around who can act as a witness.

Depending on your state, notarization of your documents may or may not be required. Call us to find out if this is necessary for you.

Scammers Swoop in for Your COVID-19 Economic Impact Checks

As with any time of crisis, vultures swoop to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers ― and now they’re targeting people with fake COVID-19 messaging purporting to be from the IRS. Don’t be fooled, these are attempts to defraud you and even steal your identity.

The IRS says scammers are making calls, sending e-mails and text messages to taxpayers stating that they can receive their coronavirus outbreak impact payment or tax refund early by responding. The agency warns that if you receive a phone call, e-mail or text asking you for personal information so you can receive funds, you should not comply. The IRS will not reach out to you in that way.

Taxpayers should watch not only for e-mails but text messages, websites and social media attempts that request money or personal information.

 

Impact payment phishing attempts

The IRS and its Criminal Investigation Division have seen a wave of new and evolving phishing schemes related to the $1,200 economic impact payments that the government is paying to taxpayers starting in April. Many of these attempts are directed at retirees.

People that have signed up for direct deposit for their tax refunds in the past will have the funds directly deposited into their accounts. Those that haven’t, can go to the IRS website from April 17 onwards to provide their banking information online on a newly designed secure IRS portal.

The IRS will mail checks to the address on file for people who do not sign up for direct deposit.

Seniors should be especially wary as scammers will often target them during crises. The IRS says retirees who don’t normally have a requirement to file a tax return do not have to take any action to receive their economic impact payment. It stresses that IRS personnel will not be trying to contact them by phone, e-mail, mail or in person to elicit information that can be used to complete the form on the economic impact payment portal.

The IRS is sending these $1,200 payments automatically to retirees, and they do not need to provide any information to receive them.

 

Scammer techniques

The IRS informs taxpayers that scammers may:

  • Emphasize the words “Stimulus Check” or “Stimulus Payment.” The official term is economic impact payment.
  • Ask the taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment check to them.
  • Ask by phone, e-mail, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information, saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up their impact payment.
  • Suggest that they can get a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. This scam could be conducted by social media, or even in person.
  • Mail the taxpayer a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell them to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.

 

Take action

If you receive unsolicited e-mails, text messages or social media attempts to gather information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, you can help shut the scammers down by forwarding the information to phishing@irs.gov.

Also, if someone calls and asks for your information for the payments, the IRS recommends that you not engage with them in any way and just hang up.

For official IRS details on the COVID-19 pandemic and economic impact payments, you can visit the Coronavirus Tax Relief page on the IRS website.

OSHA Won’t Require COVID-19 Cases to Be Recorded

Federal OSHA announced on April 13 that it won’t be enforcing COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements.

The announcement reverses an earlier decision requiring that transmission of the virus in the workplace, unlike the flu or common cold, would be considered a recordable injury for the sake of OSHA reporting.

The agency said it would only require the reporting of COVID-19 cases for non-frontline employers if there was objective evidence that a case may be work-related without an alternative explanation and the evidence was reasonably evident to the employer.

It said the new order would allow companies to “focus on implementing good hygiene practices rather than “making difficult work-relatedness decisions.”

Some employers are still required to record COVID-19 cases among their staff, including health care entities, emergency response outfits and correctional institutions.

 

OSHA complaints rise

The change comes as OSHA is flooded with COVID-19 complaints from workers reporting safety breaches in relation to the pandemic, across a range of industries and regions of the country.

Employment law attorneys say that shortly after the outbreak got a foothold in the U.S., OSHA started receiving complaints and began sending letters to employers telling them to respond by a certain time. But the agency has seen such a flood of complaints that the letters no longer require a response, and instead direct businesses to OSHA guidance and resources on how to address COVID-19 risk in the workplace.

The federal agency has received thousands of inquiries regarding COVID-19. And individual state OSHAs also report a spike in COVID-19 complaints by workers against their employers. Most are from health care workers, but others are from workers in other essential industries like grocery stores, warehouses, delivery operators, and more.

But while Fed OSHA may not be requiring employers to respond to complaints concerning coronavirus safety complaints, many state plans are in fact requiring employers to provide in-depth responses ― and some are actively investigating complaints.

 

What employers should do

If you have employees who are not working from home and are being exposed to the coronavirus to some degree while at work, you should have in place a plan to reduce the possibility of exposure. Your controls could include:

  • Shields around workspaces or workers.
  • Requiring the use of face masks and surgical gloves.
  • Placing sanitizing gel in strategic locations in the workplace.
  • Using personal protective equipment.
  • Spacing personnel apart from each other to ensure appropriate distancing.
  • Staggering work shifts.
  • Frequently wiping down high-touch areas with an alcohol-type solution.

 

The key to protecting your workers and being able to provide a defense should OSHA conduct a workplace investigation is to show that you did all you could to mitigate hazards to your employees.

There are no guidelines for COVID-19 in OSHA’s regulations currently, but its General Duty Clause requires that you take appropriate precautions to protect your workers.

What COVID-19 Services Your Health Plan May Cover

Under two new laws that were signed into law in March, all health plans must cover testing, preventative services and vaccines for COVID-19 without cost-sharing.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires that group health insurance and individual health insurance plans cover coronavirus testing with zero cost-sharing. This includes deductibles, copayments and coinsurance for items and services provided during a provider visit, whether it is in-person, telehealth-enabled, at an urgent care center, or in an emergency room.

It also waives prior authorization and other “medical management requirements.”

That law was followed up 10 days later by the CARES Act, which requires group plans and individual market plans to cover preventative services and vaccines for COVID-19 without cost-sharing. The coverage applies both to the test itself and to the visit in which the test was administered.

Unfortunately, neither law requires that health plans cover COVID-19 treatment, which would include medication and in-hospital services if you or a member of your family needed to be hospitalized.

 

Telehealth services

The CARES Act greatly expands the availability of telehealth services beyond diagnosis and treatment for COVID-19 in order to expand access to care. 

As part of the law, the Federal Communications Commission will receive $200 million to provide telecommunications and information services and devices.

Also, restrictions on health savings accounts have been waived to allow high-deductible health plans to cover telehealth services without a deductible. 

The CARES Act also removes the existing requirement that a Medicare beneficiary have a pre-existing patient/provider relationship in order to be treated through telehealth.

The new law also authorizes federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics to be sites for telehealth consultations, and it enhances payments for such telehealth services provided during the emergency period.

The mandate that a number of Medicare services require face-to-face meetings (such as home dialysis patients, home health, and hospice care) has been waived for the duration of the outbreak. The CARES Act also appropriates $25 million for telemedicine and distance learning in rural areas. 

 

Beware of treatment costs

While most private health plans likely cover most items and services needed to treat complications due to COVID-19, there is no clear federal requirement to do so.

The essential health benefits standard under the ACA defines categories of services to be covered, but it is left to states to designate “benchmark” policies that define specific covered services.

As a result, coverage for at least some services needed to treat COVID-19 ― such as home-delivered care, telemedicine visits, or respiratory therapy visits ― are likely to vary under health insurance plans that are subject to the essential health benefits standard.

Nearly all private health plans use networks of participating hospitals, doctors, laboratories and other providers.

One issue that health plan enrollees have to watch out for is going out of network for coronavirus testing or care.

HMOs, for example, could deny claims for out-of-network services, other than emergency services. Under PPO plans that provide some coverage for out-of-network care, patients can face higher cost-sharing (e.g., patients might be required to pay 20% coinsurance for in-network claims and 50% coinsurance for out-of-network claims.)

In addition, out-of-network care exposes patients to “balance billing,” or the difference between the provider’s undiscounted charge and the amount the health plan considers reasonable. If you are seeking care, make sure you are going to an in-network provider to avoid any undue surprises.

 

Businesses Hit with Malicious Coronavirus-related E-Mails

As if businesses didn’t have enough to worry about, online scammers have started sending out malicious e-mails to organizations about coronavirus that appear to be from business partners or public institutions.

The criminals send these to rank and file employees in the hope that at least one of them will click on a link or attachment in the e-mail, which unleashes malware or tries to trick them into wiring money for supplies purportedly to protect the organization’s workers.

The number of malicious e-mails mentioning the coronavirus has increased significantly since the end of January, according to cyber security firm Proofpoint Inc. The company noted that this wasn’t the first time they had seen such widespread cyber attacks associated with some type of a disaster. But because this is global in nature, it decided to track the new threat.

This practice of launching cyber attacks that are centered around global news and outbreaks (like the current COVID-19 coronavirus) isn’t anything new. Cyber criminals have long employed these tactics to take advantage of users’ desires to keep us up to date with any new information as possible, or to evoke powerful emotions (like fear) in the hope that their sentiments will get the better of them and they will not pause to check for the legitimacy of these e-mails.

The cyber criminals are using the public’s ignorance about coronavirus, as well as the conflicting claims of how to protect against it, to lure people into clicking on their malicious links or get them to wire money. Because people are afraid, their guards may be down and they may not be as careful about identifying the e-mail as dangerous. For example:

  • An employee in purchasing or accounts payable may receive an e-mail that is doctored to look like a purchase order for face masks or other supplies. The aim is to trick an employee into wiring payments to a fraudulent account.
  • Other e-mails may look like they are from OSHA or a government health agency with links on tips to protect the workplace from COVID-19. The link contains malware that is unleashed on the company’s servers. It purports to include an attached file of victims of the virus but, when opened, it instead unleashes a malicious payload designed to infect users’ systems.

 

Some real-life examples

  • Japanese workers were targeted in January and February with e-mails that looked like they came from local hospitals. The messages even included legitimate contact information for key personnel.
    The e-mails were focused on employees of various companies and came in a message that would look like it’s a reply to something, or a warning that people are getting from the government. But when they clicked, it was malware.
  • E-mails were sent to companies in the transportation sector that looked like they came from an employee of the World Health Organization. They included the WHO logo and instructions about how to monitor crews aboard ships for coronavirus symptoms, and they included an attachment with instructions.
    This phishing e-mail attack was intended to lure individuals into providing sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information and passwords.
  • Companies in the US and Australia have been receiving malicious e-mails that use a display name of “Dr Li Wei” and are titled “CORONA-VIRUS AFFECTED COMPANY STAFF.”

 

What you can do

All that it takes to break into your business is a cleverly worded e-mail message. If scammers can trick one person in your company into clicking on a malicious link, they can gain access to your data.

It’s important to train your staff to identify suspicious e-mails. They should avoid clicking links in e-mails that:

  • Are not addressed to them by name, have poor English, or omit personal details that a legitimate sender would include.
  • Are from businesses they are not expecting to hear from.
  • Ask you to download any files.
  • Take you to a landing page or website that does not have the legitimate URL of the company the e-mail is purporting to be sent from.
  • Include attachments purportedly with advice for what to do. Do not open them even if they come from relatives or friends.