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Estate Planning and COVID-19

Martin Shenkman

American Brain Foundation Board Member Martin Shenkman talks through key financial estate planning steps to take during the pandemic


While some of the legal processes surrounding estate planning may have altered somewhat as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, making these preparations for the future is necessary for all adults regardless of wealth or income level—especially at this time. Martin Shenkman of Shenkman Law hosted a Facebook Live with the American Brain Foundation to provide important steps for financial, estate and legal planning during the pandemic. “My hope is that by giving you practical steps, it will empower you and help you to live a safer life at this time,” he says. Watch his video or download his white paper for his advice on a solid approach to estate planning during these times.


Financial Planning 

Mr. Shenkman explains that the first step in planning financially for your future is to create a financial roadmap and make it available for people to rely on in an emergency. Begin by listing every recurring monthly billing expense you pay and how it’s paid, as well as the same information for non-monthly bills such as property tax and life insurance. He also recommends including a list of your income sources—where they come from, what they are and how they come into your bank account—with enough detail that someone can ensure all your money gets into your accounts. Finally, add in contact information for key people such as your broker, insurance agent or financial planner.

Then, he recommends developing a budget based on real numbers rather than the standard information provided for someone of your age and income bracket. “Your expenses could be markedly different than what average expenses are of someone your age and income level,” Mr. Shenkman explains. “You need to tailor what you do to your own situation.” If you have a brain disease or neurological condition, those costs should also be factored into your budget. For those having financial issues as the result of the market decline or other reasons, focus on cutting expenses to ensure your money doesn’t run out.

Once you have your plan in place, he advises having someone objective like a financial planner or accountant review it. Often these services can be provided through financial institutions for a reduced cost. Financial forecasts or models are also worth the expense, as they allow you to project what your retirement will look like down the line and allow you to tailor your budgets accordingly. 

Other Tips

  • Put your bills on autopay. Not only does this make things easier for someone to step in in the event of illness, it also helps avoid elder abuse by keeping sensitive documents out of your mailbox.
  • Back up important information in your wallet. Take a photo of the back and front of every ID, license and card in your wallet and store the images securely in the cloud with password protection or on an encrypted laptop that someone you trust has access to.
  • Store important financial documents in one place. Find out where all of your important financial, estate planning and health-care documents are located and make them accessible electronically.
  • Put together an emergency envelope. Print and organize all of your health-care documents in a single envelope that can be grabbed quickly in the event of an emergency.


Estate Planning

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for individuals to begin estate planning or to revise their existing documents. “Estate planning is not just planning for your death, it’s planning for your future. It’s planning to protect yourself,” Mr. Shenkman explains and says that every adult needs these core documents.

Letter of Introduction
This letter contains the nuances that don’t go into a legal document, including a heartfelt explanation of what you’ve done and why, as well as any plans you would like carried out in respect to raising children, etc. These little explanations might not seem important, but can deflect issues between family members later.

Power of Attorney
This form allows a designated person to make financial, legal and tax decisions for you if you can’t do so yourself. Due to the pandemic, he recommends including language for durable rather than springing power of attorney, as the later requires two physicians to submit letters that state you are incapacitated for the power of attorney to be granted—which may not be possible with the current burden on the healthcare system.

Living Will
A living will is a statement of healthcare wishes. Mr. Shenkman advises people that many forms available online express blanket prohibitions against intubation, which may not make sense in a COVID-19 environment. “You may be able to survive COVID-19 but you might need to be intubated. You don’t want a blanket prohibition now,” he says.

Will and/or Revocable Trust
With courts out of session, Mr. Shenkman recommends having revocable trust, which is “easier, simpler and avoids probate.” He also advises having a pour-over will that expresses anything you own at the time of death goes into the trust, and the trust will explain where things are divided, address powers of appointment as well as name guardians and an executor.

Health Care Proxy
This document authorizes someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf. If possible, you’ll need to specifically allow the use of an electronic platform for means of making a decision.

HIPPA Release
This form authorizes someone to communicate with your physicians and access your medical records.


For those with brain disease and without, Mr. Shenkman highlights the importance of financial and estate planning when it comes to preparing for the future. He encourages viewers to start with small steps and be proactive. His white paper provides more detail on estate planning.

The American Brain Foundation was founded to bring researchers and donors together in the fight against brain disease. We believe that when we cure one disease, we will cure many. Learn more about brain disease and COVID-10 considerations or help us in our mission by giving today.