Top 5 Estate Planning Tips During COVID-19

Even in the best of times, estate planning is a complicated business, requiring the assistance of a top-flight attorney with unquestionable knowledge and experience in this area of the law. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic surrounding us, while the need for estate planning becomes more urgent, the tools for successfully completing the task may seem out of reach.

While some people may be tempted to procrastinate either beginning the estate planning process or making necessary alterations to their existing plans, this is precisely the time to be proactive. After all, estate planning is all about preparation for the future and taking into account unexpected as well as planned-for events. There can be no doubt that COVID-19 fits into the former category.

Many individuals are understandably overwhelmed during this unprecedented period. That’s why this is the perfect time to put your questions and concerns in the hands of a professional estate planning attorney with excellent credentials and a reputation for clear counsel.

It will help to focus on the following tips to ready yourself for a consultation with your attorney:

Locate Necessary Documents

For all but the most compulsively organized among us, it is too easy to misplace or even lose important papers over time. We move, reorganize, rearrange, discard, forget -- often at the expense of keeping crucial original documents in a known location. In most cases, these documents are still in our Law Firm in Palm Springs: Heritage Legal, PCpossession if we only have the patience and resolve to find them.

Depending on where we live, ever-changing government regulations restrict our daily activities and travel. This is a good time for in-house projects like gathering our important papers, putting them in order, and keeping them accessible.

This is the time to make certain that you have original documents, not copies, and that your trusted family members know where these documents are. Keeping your documents safe but hidden will not help the situation if you become ill or incapitated and unable to remember or explain their location.

Be Aware of Alternative Methods of Estate Planning

Our world has quickly adapted to the new normal. It is now possible to do most estate planning work from your own home. Most estate planning attorneys have already figured out ways to meet with you remotely and are available to communicate with you not only through email, telephone, and text, but through video conferencing.
It is now also possible to do the following, depending on your specific circumstances:

- Create, update or finalize your estate plan

- Send and receive drafted documents by email, snail mail, or tracked delivery

- Sign documents at your attorney’s office safely by social distancing, wearing masks and gloves (some lawyers even offer drive-through signing)

- Sign documents at home by following your attorney’s directions which may include having local witnesses who practice social distancing in your home or meet with you out of doors to witness your signature

Having documents notarized online -- though not yet the norm, this is possible in a few states (not California) for Wills; in other states, lawyers who are notaries are preparing to petition their governors to make online notarization legal or to allow signatures on trusts to be valid until they can be safely notarized

Make Certain Your Estate Plan Is Current

The simple fact is that as we go through major life changes we are typically so caught up in the heightened emotions and complex logistics of the events that we often forget that our estate plan has to be updated.

The unexpected downtime of the COVID-19 outbreak is a carved out period made for reevaluating your estate plan with the assistance of a skilled estate planning attorney. You should consider whether one of the following important occurrences has given you reasons to alter your estate plan:

- Marriage, divorce, or remarriage of yourself or one of your beneficiaries

- Birth or adoption of a child or grandchild

- Purchase or sale of property, home, or business

- Relocation to another state

- Receipt of an inheritance or other substantial assets

- Death of a beneficiary

- Development of special needs by a beneficiary

- Desire to change a beneficiary, trustee, or guardian

- Enactment of new tax laws

Make Sure To Consider Your Own Potential for Mental Incapacity

As difficult as it is to contemplate our own mortality, imagining the loss of our mental faculties is even harder. A good estate planning attorney will make sure that you consider the distinct possibility that your mind will become dysfunctional before your body -- since this occurs in a significant percentage of the population.

For this reason, it is essential to have created a power of attorney and living will as parts of your estate plan. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is only necessary when you become elderly. As COVID-19 has shown us, the unexpected occurs without warning. A traumatic brain injury, for example, can incapacitate a young mind in an instant.

Keep Your Estate Plan Clear and Understandable

This is another example of a situation in which having a sharp estate planning attorney is invaluable. The temptation to add addendums or make alterations to documents may be great as new ideas occur to you, especially when dealing with trusts. Though it is essential to keep your estate plan current, it is also essential to keep it readable and understandable if it is to serve its purpose.

You don’t want to make too many amendments so that the document is indecipherable or ambiguous. Also, you should be aware that any person whose name still appears as a beneficiary in your estate plan -- even if that individual has been disinherited in an amendment -- will receive a copy of your entire estate plan. This may lead to lengthy, painful litigation for your heirs.

In the end, the last thing you want your estate plan to do is precipitate misunderstanding of your wishes, confuse your financial advisor or other third parties, or cause dissension among those you love. If your estate plan has become too complicated, your attorney will recommend drafting a new up-to-date document that includes all corrections.

During this era of COVID-19 when it is easy to feel powerless, working on your estate plan with a supportive estate planning attorney can be a very positive experience. After all, taking command of your finances and protecting your assets and future (as much as any of us can) imbues you with a sense of control and balance in a time of undeniable uncertainty.

By Heritage Legal, PC, California
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Call (760) 202-5927

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christopher Heritage
Chris is the Founder and Principal of Heritage Legal, PC, with offices in Palm Springs. Heritage Legal, PC offers legal services in the general areas of Estate Planning (Wills and Trusts), Trust Administration, Trustee and Executor services, Probate, Family Law, and Bankruptcy. Chris has focused an important part of his practice on the unique estate and relationship planning needs of the LGBT community and other non-traditional families. Chris earned his B.A. in Russian Area Studies from the University of Maryland, and his Juris Doctorate from The American University, Washington College of Law, in Washington, D.C.

Copyright Heritage Legal, PC

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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