Prepping for the unexpected? Here's how to set up a will, other legal documents without a lawyer

The coronavirus pandemic is finding that many families are unprepared to deal with a loved one's sudden hospitalization and possibly even death. Here are the documents you need to avoid that.
The novel coronavirus pandemic is finding that many families are unprepared to deal with a loved one's sudden hospitalization and possibly even death.

The impact comes as soon as a family member is put on a ventilator, at which point the patient is deemed legally incapacitated, which can force families into making important decisions, according to estate planning lawyer Bruce Givner.

For parents, one of the key issues that often surfaces during such events is the question of who will be the designated guardian for a minor child.

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Givner says that is also one of the most contested decisions between parents. To avoid a legal quagmire down the line, he recommends three documents that can be found with a Google search and are often free.

California statutory will

The California Bar Association has a form you can download and print. Another website produces a form that you can fill out on your computer.

"It is free and it's terrific. You can name guardians for your children. It lets you set up a trust for your children," Givner said.

Then, with physical distancing in mind, have two witnesses watch you sign the document. A notary can also make a house call and maintain a margin of safety.

"Keep in your home or maybe give it to your first choice as executor, so (if) COVID-19 hits you, you've got a will," he said.

Advanced health care directive

Givner recommends accessing this form, which is offered through the California Medical Association. It provides an entire kit for $6, including a card you carry with you at all times in case you suddenly become incapacitated.

The directive records your health care wishes and designates a person who you want to make choices about your care if you can't make the decisions on your own. The kit is also available in Spanish.

Power of attorney for non-healthcare

This document essentially gives someone of your choice the power to manage your money, with access to your bank accounts, and do things like pay your mortgage and your bills.

Givner says planning with these three documents will save your family heartache and money. Without a will, the probate court can take a percentage of what you own.

If your house and other belongings are valued at $500,000, legal fees and court costs could amount to as much as $22,000.

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