Estate Planning During a Pandemic

Estate Planning During a Pandemic

KCRA’s article entitled“5 things to know about estate planning” says that estate planning is a topic that people frequently don’t like to think about. However, more people now want to create a will or revise one that’s already in existence, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

You should have a will. You can find forms online, or you can (in some states) use a holographic will, which is handwritten. However, a holographic will can be incomplete and unclear and invalid if not executed in accordance with the formalities required under the statute.    These DIY estate planning techniques are not a good idea, especially if you have any property, minor children, or want to save on taxes for your family. Use an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that you are covering all of your bases.

Without a will, your “state” makes one for you. If you die intestate, state law will dictate how your probate estate will be distributed at your death. However, this makes it take longer to administer your estate, which extends the grieving process for family members.  It is also more expensive, more time-consuming and more work for those you leave behind. Lastly, you have no say in how you want your property distributed.    For example, if you are not married and have no children, and your parents have both predeceased you, the intestacy statute in Massachusetts would divide your estate between your living siblings.    If you are estranged from one of your siblings, the state’s rule will still require that sibling to inherit a portion of your estate.

Why do I need a will? Everyone should think about estate planning and have an estate plan in place. This should include what would happen, if you’re incapacitated. With the coronavirus pandemic, this might mean contracting the disease and being in a hospital on a ventilator for weeks and unable to care for your children.  Remember, a will only governs the distribution of your probate assets at your death.  Should be incapacitated during life, whether mentally and/or physically, you need other estate planning documents, such as a durable power of attorney and health care proxy.  Without these documents, your loved ones will need to seek the appointment of a guardian and/or conservator from the probate court.

How long does a will take? Drafting your will is a very personal and customized process that usually happens over several meetings with a qualified estate planning attorney. Depending upon the complexity of the estate plan, it could take a week, a few weeks, or a couple of months.   Will-based plans, that is a plan that does not have a trust, can be completely in a short amount of time.  And, in the midst of the pandemic, estate planning attorneys will likely expedite certain plans depending upon a client’s circumstances.

What about COVID-19? When your will is complete, there’s usually a signing meeting set with the attorney, witnesses, a notary and the person creating the will. However, now there’s no way to safely gather to sign these critical documents. Many states, including Massachusetts, have made exceptions to the witness rule or are allowing processes using technology, known as remote notarization.

Reference: KCRA (April 16, 2020). “5 things to know about estate planning”