By Elizabeth Hunt, Partner
Thinking about worst case scenarios isn’t something anyone ever wants to dwell on, but the reality of COVID-19 and the impact it is having on the health of so many make some of the topics that are typically pushed off seem more immediately relevant. For many people, this means making sure an estate plan is in place and up to date.
If it’s on your mind, here’s what you need to know to get started on or refresh your estate plan.
The good news – much of the work on your estate plan can be done from home. Our attorneys are staying connected with clients via video conferencing, telephone and email, so if you’re stuck at home this could be the perfect time to make sure your documents are up to date.
Estate plans vary based on the individual, but there are a few key pieces you’ll want to include or spend some time revisiting. Don’t forget – you’ll still need to go through execution formalities with your attorney. During this state of emergency, it is not always possible to arrange for “in person“ notarization and witnessing of documents. Although, as of the time of this blog, Governor Mills has not yet signed it, a proposed emergency order was delivered to her office on Tuesday of this week. The emergency order would permit the use of electronic means for notarization and witnessing acts provided certain safeguards are observed. Stay tuned and contact us if you have any questions.
The Last Will and Testament names an executor (someone who will be in charge of gathering and distributing assets) and allows you to make clear your intentions about how those assets will be dispersed. Perhaps most importantly, if you have minor children you will want to designate a guardian for them.
A Revocable Living Trust acts as a safeguard to help your heirs avoid the expense of probate court. You can name a trustee to manage your property during incapacity or after your death.
Designating a Health Care Proxy and a Durable Power of Attorney are both important steps as they indicate who will make medical and financial decisions (respectively) if you are unable to do so on your own.
An Advance Directive spells out your own medical wishes to loved ones, your health care proxy, and medical professionals.
Don’t forget about any digital assets. Do you have online photos, social media, or email accounts you’d like to ensure your loved ones have access to if you’re not around? We’ve covered more on that here.
While you’re reviewing everything, take a look at beneficiary designations on your existing life insurance policies and retirement plans. It’s common to designate these beneficiaries when the plans are opened or policies purchased, but if you’ve had them for a while your priorities may have shifted and it might be time to reassess.
As a final step, gather all of your important documents into one place. Beyond what you might think of as traditional estate planning materials, keep all of your important paperwork in one place to ensure it’s easily accessible. This includes things like birth certificates, bank or retirement account information, real estate deeds, and life insurance policies. You can use our Family Discussion Checklist to keep track of everything. Keeping these documents together will be easier on you if you need to reference them, as well as for anyone else who might need access to them in the future.
If you have estate planning needs during this time, our attorneys are available.