Creating an Estate Plan during COVID-19

Creating an Estate Plan for COVID-19

When a global pandemic arises, it can raise many “what if” questions. As the death count rises and more cases are confirmed, it’s reasonable to start reflecting on undesirable situations. Mix social isolation with an aggressive virus and many people find themselves reaching out to their Orange County estate planning attorneys to take care of updating their estate plans. 

There is no better time than the present to ensure that your final wishes are in order. Here are some things you should consider when creating an estate plan during COVID-19:

Social Distancing First

In the past, creating an estate plan would involve meetings with your attorney in his or her office. With social distancing rules in place, many Orange County estate planning lawyers are working remotely. Even as states start to slowly open back up for regular business, many attorneys may continue to meet remotely.

You can still meet with your attorney; it just might look a little different than you’d expect. Phone calls and emails are still powerful tools for attorneys and their clients. Video conferencing is gaining in popularity and ease. In many cases, attorneys visit clients at their homes. You should have no trouble still holding meetings with your attorney, even if it means doing so from different locations.

You’ll Have Homework

You probably have a little more time now to think through your estate than you may have had before. There are plenty of issues you’ve probably considered and put on hold that can be explored in more detail now. Your attorney is going to want you to work through some of these things between meetings. You can even save some time by having an idea of what you want before your initial consultation.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Who is the most trustworthy option to be your executor?
  • Who should benefit from your estate?
  • Who are your dependent family members?
  • What type of assets do you have, and where are they located?
  • Do you own/run a business?

Your estate planning lawyer will have more questions to help provide you with the best options, but having a general idea of what you have and what should happen to it is a great start.

There Are Signing Options

While documents can be sent back and forth electronically, many estate planning documents require legal signatures or witnesses to be valid. With social distancing orders in place, it may be challenging to accomplish this task. Luckily, there are some options that could work in your situation.

  • In-Person Visit - it may be necessary to sign documents in front of your attorney. If you are going to meet at your Orange County estate planning lawyer’s office, make sure to wear gloves and a mask as appropriate. Wash your hands before and after the meeting with soap, even if you were wearing gloves. These same precautions are recommended if your attorney visits you at home.
  • Drive-Up Signings - some law firms are offering drive-up options. This would essentially mean signing the documents in your car. This can be a convenient option, but can also be uncomfortable if you have a large packet to sign.
  • Do It Yourself - there are certain documents and circumstances where an in-person meeting with your attorney isn’t necessary. In these cases, your attorney could mail you the documents with instructions on where to sign. As needed, you could potentially use neighbors, friends, or families as witnesses or work with a local notary.
  • Electronic Notarization - there are a few states that allow online notarizations for some documents. Attorneys across the country are pushing for more electronic options for estate documents, especially in a social distancing world. Check with your estate planning lawyer to get the most up-to-date information on electronic signing options. Even if this isn’t available to you now, expect changes in the future.
  • Skip the Notarization - there are some states and some documents that don’t actually need to be signed by a lawyer or notary. In some cases, two impartial witnesses sign with you. It may even be possible to sign a trust without a notary. Of course, check with your attorney to know what is allowed.

You Might Have to Deal with Estate Taxes

Estate tax isn’t necessarily something everyone has to worry about. Currently, only large estates are subject to federal estate tax. A married couple wouldn’t have to worry about an estate tax unless the estate exceeds $23.16 million in value. (In 2020)

If you have a large estate, COVID-19 has impacted options for reducing your tax liability. One option might be to give away assets that have declined in value. Another option would be to give away the future appreciation of an asset without giving up the asset itself. Your Orange County Estate Planning Lawyer will help you determine the best options for your unique situation.

If you’re not subject to estate tax, you wouldn’t necessarily want to give away parts or all of your assets without a good reason. Your attorney may even suggest creating a trust to help avoid taxes on your assets after your death.

You’re Not Alone

With shelter-in-place and social distancing orders in place, day-to-day life can get lonely. In some cases, you aren’t able to visit with others due to the potential risk of getting or spreading the virus. Even if you feel isolated, know that you’re not alone.

Working with an Orange County estate planning attorney means you have someone on your side. Your attorney can help you create the right plan for your needs, working to ensure that your final wishes are met and that your financial legacy lives on. In other cases, your attorney will help make the most of your estate to help cover expenses related to hospitalization, medicines, in-home help, therapy, and more. 

More importantly, your estate planning attorney will know how to navigate and make the best use of state and federal assistance programs.

If you have been thinking about creating an estate plan or simply want to make sure your current policy is updated, contact today. We help our clients create personalized estate plans in California. Even with COVID-19 lurking around, we’re here to help give you peace of mind.

Maria Parker assists her clients plan for their end of life health care wishes and the ultimate distribution of their wealth after death. She personally experienced the importance of planning at the time her father passed away.

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