The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to consider previously unthinkable “what if” scenarios, and has taught many people valuable lessons about being better prepared for the unexpected. As many are now planning to start more conservatively saving for an unexpected financial downturn and to maintain a reasonable supply of household essentials, individuals should also take advantage of this extended period of social distancing to prepare in another way—by reevaluating or creating an estate plan. Given the current atmosphere, here are some things to consider:
Have you executed estate planning documents?
A basic estate plan includes a will and sometimes a trust, but also includes designating appropriate beneficiaries on retirement accounts and life insurance policies. Among other things, an estate plan allows you to choose who will receive your assets after your death, when they will receive them, and significantly, also allows you to name guardians for your minor children. Without a plan in place, the state code governs what happens to your assets at your death. Estate planning is essential for all adults, though some plans may be more complex than others depending on net worth, family dynamics, desired asset distribution, and other special needs.
Is your estate plan up to date?
If you have an estate plan in place, now is a great time to review it to ensure that it is up to date and reflects your current wishes. Specifically, you should consider the following:
• Do you know where your original will and trust documents are located?
• Does your will or trust direct that your property pass to the people and/or organizations you wish to benefit?
• Do your trust provisions reflect your wishes and the needs and best interests of your beneficiaries?
• Are your named executors, trustees, and agents (including successors), still suitable, able, and willing to serve?
• Are the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies up to date and consistent with your overall estate plan?
• Have there been any major life changes (such as a change in marital status, birth of a child or grandchild, death of a close relative, a change in your state of residence, or a significant change in your assets or net worth) since you executed your estate planning documents?
Depending on your answers to these questions, you may need to execute an amendment to your will and/or trust, or scrap your current estate plan and execute entirely new documents.
Do you have a power of attorney and advance medical directive in place and up to date?
Powers of attorney and advance medical directives (consisting of a living will and health care proxy) express your wishes and authorize your appointed agents to make financial and medical decisions during your lifetime for you, if you are unable to do so for yourself, whether because of illness, accident, or anything else. These two documents also allow your loved ones to avoid the need to go to court just to be able to handle your affairs for you. Everyone needs these documents in place and up to date as part of an effective estate plan. It is also important to discuss your health care wishes with the individuals you appoint as agents, so that they are prepared to make decisions in accordance with your wishes.
As the COVID-19 crisis reminds us, we never know exactly when we will need to call on our estate plans and advance directives, so it is critical to be prepared. During this time of recommended social distancing, PLDR attorneys can be reached by phone or email to discuss creating or updating your estate planning documents. We have created a designated space for signing ceremonies, that allows our clients and our staff to maintain appropriate distance and ensure the space is properly cleaned between uses. This is one of the very few parts of our practice that we consider so essential that we are allowing clients to come into the office for such a limited purpose.