Grim To-Do List: Estate Planning in a COVID-19 World
You’ve probably seen sobering headlines about healthcare workers rushing to finalize their wills and other estate planning documents. Even if you’re not on the front lines of the crisis, anyone can get COVID-19, including young people, and elite athletes like Rudy Gobert and Von Miller.
Are you in one of these common situations?
- You started the estate planning process with an attorney many months or years ago. You have a draft of the documents, but you haven’t formally executed them.
- You have young children and have been meaning to get your legal documents in order, especially naming a guardian.
- You’re single and child-free, and you think estate planning isn’t relevant to your situation.
All adults, including single people and the child-free, should have basic estate planning documents. Estate planning is about ensuring your wishes are honored upon your death or incapacitation. Although your knee-jerk reaction may be, “I don’t need to worry about this because I don’t have a spouse or children”, you may have other loved ones who are relying on you. Some examples include:
- Aging parents
- A niece or nephew
- Pets: your cat, dog, or other beloved animal
Six in ten adults don’t have a will. Be mindful of the legacy you want to leave. And think through how to care for your loved ones if you die prematurely or become incapacitated.
Estate Planning 101
An estate plan contains four key documents:
You want to pick a trusted friend or family member to carry out your wishes in these documents. You can select the same person to fulfill all of the roles. Talk to the person and make sure he or she is willing to serve before you start drafting your documents.
At a bare minimum, set up your Health Care Document. If you have minor children in your care, having a will is critical because this document names the guardian.
Note: a living trust is an optional document. If you don’t have assets that are subject to probate, you probably could skip a living trust. But if you’re concerned about family in-fighting over your estate, you probably should set up a living trust.
Estate Planning in a COVID-19 World
You may be wondering how to work with an estate planning attorney while everyone is sheltering in place. Fortunately, most of the estate planning work can be done at home. Attorneys are working remotely and can talk to you by email, phone, or video conference. Documents can be emailed or snail mailed.
Finalizing documents can be a little tricky as documents are traditionally notarized in person. Attorneys are offering creative solutions, however, including the use of online notarization.
Online/remote notarization isn’t allowed in California, unfortunately. But my clients in Oakland said their estate planning attorney set up a card table in her driveway for an outdoor, physically-distanced signing.
Let People Know Where to Find Your Documents
Once you’ve finalized your documents, provide the name of your attorney to the person you selected to serve as executor and Power of Attorney.
If you’d like, you can also prepare letters of instruction with details like:
- Where to find online passwords for financial accounts.
- The location of bank and investment accounts.
- Detailed instructions on caring for surviving pets.
- At a bare minimum, set up your Health Care Document (a.k.a. advance health care directive).
- Also set up your will, and financial power of attorney.
- A trust may make sense if you want ultimate control.
- Don’t forget your pets!