Legal services were deemed an essential service as part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, which means attorneys are still working during the coronavirus pandemic. Attorney
“Last Saturday, I met with an elderly woman who lives with her daughters who both work in the health care services industry,” he said. “She was terrified that one of her daughters is going to contract it through one of the patients and bring it home. So, it was sort of a wake-up call to put her will in place.”
With more time behind closed doors, attorneys are saying estate planning “might be something that people want to turn their attention to” after figuring out how to get toilet paper and keeping their kids from driving them crazy while they’re working from home.
A recent survey by Caring.com, a caregiving resource, found that the number of American adults that have a will or another type of estate planning document has decreased by almost 25% since 2017 and the number of older and middle-aged adults with estate planning documents dropped by 20% and 25% since 2019, respectively. When asked why they have put off estate planning, many cite a lack of knowledge or the cost of tackling it as their main reason.
“We’re all sitting at home, and we need things to occupy us, so it’s a great time to ask your attorney to send over copies of your current documents, update your financial statements, to help your attorney review your current plan,” said
“The estate planning process is often one characterized by fits and starts, like somebody knows they have to do it, but for most people, it’s the last thing on their list because they’re off busy living, and not thinking about dying,” he said. “Now we have this mass health crisis going on ... the big challenge hitting estate planning lawyers is how do we get our documents signed without killing somebody?”
Froum said a number of people have to be in the same room to sign, notarize and witness the signing of a legal document. Right now, that is less feasible, and he doesn’t want to cause harm to a client or staff member.
“We’re kind of in uncharted territory about how to get things signed,” Froum said. “We’re all trying to figure it out. We’re hoping that maybe there can be some government action that would say, whether its permanent or temporary, we can do e-notarization and e-witnessing because right now we can’t.”
Amid coronavirus concerns, people may be thinking about their mortality, but attorneys say don’t rush when getting it done. Bart recommends finding a proper estate planner by going through an established firm like
According to wealth professionals like
“Estate planning is something that people tend to procrastinate and put off, but a pandemic or a national disaster, it kind of wakes people up that they really need to get something in place,” Overmann said. “But they should be deliberate and careful about it. Instead of just trying to do a DIY will, they really should meet with a professional.”
Ready to give this planning a go? Here are some basic documents to consider:
Will: A document that ensures assets are passed to designated beneficiaries, in accordance with your wishes. In the drafting process, you name an executor, the person or institution that oversees the distribution of your assets. If you have minor children, you need to name a guardian for them.
Letter of instruction: This may contain appointment of someone who will ensure the proper disposition of your remains, which is important if you are choosing a method that is contrary to your family’s tradition.
Power of attorney: Appointment of someone to act as your agent in a variety of circumstances, such as withdrawing money from a bank.
Health care proxy: Appointment of someone to make health care decisions on your behalf if you lose the ability to do so.
Trusts: Revocable (changeable) or irrevocable (not changeable) trusts may be useful, depending on family and tax situations. According to Bart, a will is effective only at death and has to go through probate (court proceedings). An advantage of a revocable trust is avoiding probate. “If I have a great amount of confidence in the people that I’m naming as successive trustees then I can simplify the whole process for them by using the revocable trust,” she said.
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