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As Coronavirus Surges, Legal Experts Urge Texans To Do Estate Planning

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Eric Gay
/
AP News
A man with COVID-19, wearing a protective cover, is transferred from the emergency room to a COVID-19 unit at Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City, Texas.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid wants to help families plan in advance for worst case scenarios, so they're not scrambling during a medical crisis or after the death of a loved one.

More than 8,000 Texans are currently hospitalized for COVID-19, and more than 20,000 have died due to complications from the virus.

As these numbers climb, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is encouraging families to prepare for what might happen if a loved one gets sick.

The nonprofit, which provides free legal services in southwest Texas, has been inundated with calls from spouses, children and other caretakers.

“They’re saying, ‘We have somebody in the hospital and we need to be able to access their medical records or we need to access that person’s bank account so we can pay the rent for this month,’ and they can’t do it,” Carlos Aguinaga said.

Aguinaga leads the group’s Wills and Estates team, helping people draw up wills, and fill out medical directives and other key legal documents.

“The person who’s ill can’t sign it because now they’ve reached the point in the progression of their illness where they have maybe lost capacity and they lack the mental wherewithal to execute the documents.”

That’s why his team is pushing for families to plan in advance for worst case scenarios. They put out a guide explaining all the legal documents people may need to prepare, which covers everything from who can access your bank account to who gets custody of your remains.

“What we don’t want to do is burden the people that take care of us” by making it more difficult for them to render that care, because they can’t access medical records... or there is some dispute about where I go live when I get incapacitated,” Aguinaga said. “There’s just a myriad of documents that we can prepare before we need them and they’re already there and they’re already valid and it helps people help us.”

Aguinaga hopes his group’s guide helps families think through tough decisions now, instead of in a moment of crisis.

Mallory Falk is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Got a tip? Email Mallory at Mfalk@kera.org. You can follow Mallory on Twitter @MalloryFalk.

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