COVID-19 UPDATE: Coronavirus Got You Thinking About a Will? That Might Not Be Enough.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the country, it seems like everyone is thinking they should probably get a will done, just in case.

While this renewed attention to estate planning is great, experts at Bankrate.com warn that a will may not be enough.

What is a Will?

A will is a legal document that directs who should receive your property at your death – specifically any property that is in your name only and without a beneficiary designation. Without a will, your property may be distributed by the courts according to your state’s laws of intestacy … regardless of what your wishes might have been.

Some Shortcomings of a Will

  • Contrary to popular belief, a will does not avoid probate – a court process that can be expensive and can take years to resolve. With courts backed up now due to coronavirus, the process of settling a will could take much longer.
  • A will can face challenges in probate court, leading to long, messy and expensive litigation.
  • A will does not control the distribution of any assets held jointly with others, or that will pass according to beneficiary designations.
  • Your will goes into effect only after you die. It cannot help with medical or financial decisions that must be made in the event of your incapacity or serious illness.

What’s Right for You?

When it comes to estate planning, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In some situations, a will – even with all its shortcomings – may still be a good option. A living trust may be a better option for many people as they don’t have the shortcomings of a will as listed above. Other documents are also necessary to be included in an estate plan to cover other situations, such as health care decisions. Meeting with an estate planning attorney is the best way to get the planning that’s right for you. In most instances, you won’t have to leave your home and can meet by phone or online in a video chat if you don’t feel comfortable coming to my office.

Resource: ABC News, Coronavirus leads to surge in wills: ‘Everyone is thinking about their mortality’, April 2, 2020; Bankrate.com, Revocable trust vs will: A guide to estate planning in the age of coronavirus, April 17, 2020

 

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If Not Now, When? It is the Time for Estate Planning

What else could possibly go wrong? You might not want to ask that question, given recent events. A global pandemic, markets in what feels like free fall, schools closed for an extended period of time—these are just a few of the challenges facing our communities, our nation and our world. The time is now, in other words, to be sure that everyone has their estate planning completed, advises Kiplinger in the article “Coronavirus Legal Advice: Get Your Business and Estate in Order Now.”

Business owners from large and small sized companies are contacting estate planning attorney’s offices to get their plans done. People who have delayed having their estate plans done or never finalized their plans are now getting their affairs in order. What would happen if multiple family members got sick, and a family business was left unprotected?

Because the virus is recognized as being especially dangerous for people who are over age 60 or have underlying medical issues, which includes many business owners and CEOs, the question of “What if I get it?” needs to be addressed. Not having a succession plan or an estate plan, could lead to havoc for the company and the family.

Establishing a Power of Attorney is a key part of the estate plan, in case key decision makers are incapacitated, or if the head of the household can’t take care of paying bills, taxes or taking care of family or business matters. For that, you need a Durable Power of Attorney.

Another document needed now, more than ever: is an Advance Health Care Directive or health care power of attorney. This explains how you want medical decisions to be made, if you are too sick to make these decisions on your own behalf. It tells your health care team and family members what kind of care you want, what kind of care you don’t want and who should make these decisions for you.

This is especially important for people who are living together without the legal protection that being married provides. While some states may recognize registered domestic partners, in other states, medical personnel will not permit someone who is not legally married to another person to be involved in their health care decisions.

Personal information that lives only online is also at risk. Most bills today don’t arrive in the mail, but in your email inbox. What happens if the person who pays the bill is in a hospital, on a ventilator? Just as you make sure that your spouse or children know where your estate plan documents are, they also need to know who your estate planning attorney is, where your insurance policies, financial records and legal documents are and your contact list of key friends and family members.

Right now, estate planning attorneys are talking with clients about a “Plan C”—a plan for what would happen if heirs, beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries are wiped out. They are adding language that states which beneficiaries or charities should receive their assets, if all of the people named in the estate plan have died. This is to maintain control over the distribution of assets, even in a worst-case scenario, rather than having assets pass via the rules of intestate succession. Without a Plan C, an entire estate could go to a distant relative, regardless of whether you wanted that to happen.

If you want to make sure your estate planning documents are up to date and cover all the necessary items, please reach out to my office. We can get planning in place quickly and easily and are even offering virtual meetings to keep everyone safe.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 16, 2020) “Coronavirus Legal Advice: Get Your Business and Estate in Order Now.”

 

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COVID 19 UPDATE: Steps for Keeping Ourselves and Our Elderly Loved Ones Safer

We have all been warned that our elderly loved ones are at heightened risk during the coronavirus pandemic. If you are a caregiver for someone in this high-risk population, here are some tips from Dr. Alicia Arbaje, who specializes in internal medicine and geriatrics at Johns Hopkins.

  1. Keep Yourself Well
    Be sure to follow all the guidelines and precautions about social distancing, hand washing, and cleaning to keep yourself well.
  2. Limit In-Person Visits
    It may be emotionally challenging but keeping in-person visits to a minimum is the best way to reduce the risk of infection. When you can’t be there in-person, use technology to stay in touch. Teach your older loved ones how to use video chat applications. Remember to add captions to your videos if they are hearing-impaired. Also, encourage others to telephone or send cards or notes as well.
  3. Be Creative About Home-Based Projects
    Now may be a great time to encourage your loved ones to record their personal stories, organize family photos or reconnect with old friends online.
  4. Decide on a Plan
    Discuss now your emergency response plan. Who will be the emergency contact? Do you know where the estate planning documents are and can you quickly access them, especially health care directives?

If you or your loved one do not have an updated will or trust and health care documents, please reach out to our office. We can help get planning in place quickly and easily and are even offering virtual meetings now to keep everyone safe.

What if your elder loved one starts to develop symptoms?

If you or your loved one learn that you might have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or if anyone in your household develops symptoms such as cough, loss of taste or smell, fever or shortness of breath, call your family doctor, nurse helpline or urgent care facility. For a medical emergency such as severe shortness of breath or high fever, call 911.

Resource: Johns Hopkins Medicine, Coronavirus and COVID-19: Caregiving for the Elderly, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-caregiving-for-the-elderly

 

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