Now might be the perfect time to update your estate planning documents.
The coronavirus crisis has people worrying about their health and their wealth simultaneously. Shelter-in-place orders have many businesses closed, and workers have been laid off or furloughed, or seen a reduction in wages. Government officials and celebrities are also urging people to stay home, especially if they are older or immunocompromised, who are more at-risk of suffering from complications of the virus.
And with more than 1.9 million cases of COVID-19 around the world, people are feeling their mortality, and may realize that important papers need to be updated or drawn up — that includes having wills, power of attorney forms and other directive documents in place. “The world is changing before our eyes,” said Abby Schneiderman, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Everplans, an online service that collects estate planning documents. “This is the perfect time for a variety of reasons to get their lives in order.”
Wills are crucial for individuals to share their final wishes, including what they want to give to whom and how. New York state has recently allowed its residents to officiate wills virtually, with just video and audio teleconferencing among attorneys, the individuals and their witnesses. “There’s no time like the present to do that,” said Jennifer Abelaj, senior counsel at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, LLP. Indiana, Nevada and Florida currently allow electronically signed wills.
New York’s rule does not include electronically signing the document — people must still print out the form, sign it, scan it and send it back — but the provision, available until May 7 for now, does allow residents to get paperwork processed while everyone is quarantined at home. “We have been extremely concerned about our clients who had documents ready and we couldn’t give them certainty that these documents would be accepted,” Abelaj said. “It gives us a green light to go ahead and at this point, nobody should be waiting, especially if you had documents prepared.”
The global pandemic has killed more than 124,000 people around the world, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Nearly 25,000 deaths have occurred in the U.S. There are almost 600,000 cases across the country.
There are other ways Americans can stay organized, and help themselves and their loved ones in this crisis. Along with wills, individuals should work with professionals to create power of attorney documents, which give trusted family and friends the authorization to make personal and business decisions on their loved ones’ behalf. Health care proxies, also known as advance directives or a “health care power of attorney,” are separate and required to make critical medical decisions if someone becomes incapacitated.
Everplans offers an essential planning checklist, including collecting vital identification documents, information about bills, loans and banking, and insurance information. The platform, which is extending its trial period for its premium service for 90 days right now, houses all of this information, as well as information on doctors, digital accounts, family recipes and photos.
Creating documents online is often not the best choice, said Lawrence Mandelker, tax and wealth planning partner at Venable LLP. Especially in a situation like the coronavirus, a “stock document” won’t help.
Online-created wills usually come with mistakes, Abelaj said. Out of the approximately 500 probated wills she has seen in her career, most were done by attorneys and very few had mistakes. “Every single one” that was done with software has had an issue, costing some clients thousands of dollars. “I’ve never seen a good result,” she said.
People aim for perfection in these documents, Mandelker said, but that typically prevents them from completing these forms. More than anything, individuals working on estate documents should work with professionals to get their wishes on paper in a legally-binding manner. “Many clients will put off estate planning,” he said. “They want to get it perfect. You’re never going to get it perfect. This is a process.”
Originally Published on MarketWatch
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