Five Estate Planning Strategies in COVID-19’s ‘Brave New World’
The sudden shock of COVID-19, social distancing, and sheltering-in-place has forced many individuals to review and address situations rarely discussed or considered, and new unthinkable realities. While many older folks have dealt with such matters, many of us have been very fortunate in that we’ve never had to deal with sudden traumatic illness, sheltering-in-place, and increased isolation from family, friends, and neighbors.
Many people are reaching out to us to implement estate plans they put off finalizing in the last year. Some folks are calling to review and update their existing plans and others are calling to create estate plans they should have started years ago, motivated by the COVID-19 crisis.
What many people don’t know is that attorneys are actively offering innovative solutions for clients to devise and implement a plan to provide peace of mind for clients and their loved ones.
Here are five things you should know to act now:
1. Use your time wisely
With so many people sheltering-in-place, it’s likely you have time to consider some of the critical issues you’ve set aside, such as who would you want to make financial or medical decisions if you fell ill and were unable to make your own?
2. You can do estate planning from home
While you might be sheltering-in-place and unable to physically meet your attorney, you can still plan. Many attorneys working remotely are happy to consult via email, telephone, or video. Attorneys can prepare documents and send them for your review via email, mail, or tracked delivery such as FedEx or UPS.
3. There’s more than one way to sign your estate plan documents
There are flexible and creative options to execute your estate plan documents. Here are some ways attorneys are providing signing services while protecting clients and their team while following local social distancing guidelines:
- Where appropriate, clients may execute their estate plan at the attorney’s office by wearing gloves and masks in a designated “clean” room;
- Execute estate plan at your home while wearing gloves and masks;
- “Drive-up” signing allows you to sign your estate plan documents while sitting in your car.
- Estate plans may be emailed to client to print and sign in their own home in the presence of a mobile notary.
4. Notaries for wills and trusts are not always required
Many state statutes may not require notarization to create a valid will or trust, even though it is common practice. For example, in Arizona, a ‘paper will’ is valid if it is witnessed by two people. Arizona also allows ‘holographic wills,’ which are unwitnessed wills whose material provisions and signature are in the testator’s handwriting. Although it is always advisable to have estate planning documents notarized, it is important to understand your options in case of an emergency.
5. Online notarization may be an option
Online notarization is a very new concept. Most states do not allow for online notarization. Arizona now allows for online notarization, as of April 10, 2020. In response to COVID-19’s sheltering-in-place and social distancing realities, some states may allow for temporary electronic notarization of documents during the pandemic. Check your jurisdiction for rules governing online notarizations.
Hopefully, this “Brave New World’ is temporary, and we can all get back to our regular lives. Reach out to your attorney about how you can enact estate planning during this time. At the very least, your plan’s documents can be ready to sign once sheltering-in place restrictions are lifted.
Bill is admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, and before the United States Tax Court.