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Estate Planning in the Era of COVID-19

Posted by Shawn Smith | Apr 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

If the events of these past few weeks have put you on edge, know that you're not alone. Everything happening right now is unprecedented and the uncertainty of the situation is forcing us all to face our fears in some way.

With all the anxieties and unknowns of the situation, it might feel like now is a good time to put your affairs in order, just in case. While the coronavirus will not be fatal to most people that get infected, it doesn't hurt to be prepared in case you do end up needing medical care.

Although the possibility of falling critically ill is scary, the prospect can feel a little bit brighter with the certainty that you're prepared for whatever might happen. At the very least you will have done what you can to control what is in your power and ensure your estate is in order.

The truth is everyone should have an estate plan, pandemic or not, as it gives you control over your affairs and lets you make critical plans for the future. So if you don't have a plan, now is as good a time as any to put one together.

At The Smith Law Firm, PLLC, we are providing assistance to our clients at this time, to enable them to plan effectively for the future. Although some clients may be unable to come into our office due to social distancing measures, we continue to provide this crucial service through electronic and online media.

Estate planning documents you will need

An estate plan includes a collection of documents and strategies that help you organize your assets and plan for what happens when you're no longer able to act for yourself.

Without these documents, your affairs may fall into disarray, even if you do not have substantial assets or children. For instance, if you fall seriously ill and can no longer take health or financial decisions for yourself, your family will need to apply to the court to appoint a guardian who will act for you. This procedure is usually lengthy and expensive.

This is why, to avoid the trouble, it makes sense to have these documents now. Some of the documents that you should keep in mind, especially during this period, include:

  • Financial power of attorney: A financial power of attorney caters for what happens if you can no longer make financial decisions for yourself. For instance, if you are at the point where you need critical medical care, this document lets you select someone that will administer your finances, including your bank accounts, while you are indisposed. You can also set limits to how the power can be exercised and in what respects. Although you can appoint any person of full age and mental capacity as your attorney, a good rule of thumb is to pick someone that is financially astute and that will only act in your best interests.
  • Health care power of attorney: Similar to a financial power of attorney, a health care power of attorney allows you to authorize someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. They will be able to authorize medical treatments on your behalf and generally make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated or incompetent.
  • Advance health care directive: Also known as a living will, this document allows you to specify what kind of end-of-life treatment you want to receive. Some have specific desires as to how they want to be treated should they be in a position where recovery is impossible. This document lets you document your wishes and provide directives on what should happen at this stage.
  • Will: Unlike the other documents that specify what should happen while you are alive, a will lets you provide for when you are no longer here. The document lets you stipulate directions for who should inherit you and how. If you don't create a will to direct your own succession, the distribution of your assets will be handled by the state and may result in consequences very radical from what you may have preferred. Also, if you have minor children, a will lets you appoint a guardian that will look after them if you are no longer able to.
  • Living trust: This is one of the most versatile instruments you can create as part of your estate plan. It is a mechanism that allows you to set up your assets in such a way that they are not affected by whatever happens to you. It helps you avoid the need for probate and shields your assets from life events like financial or judicial debt. It also lets you provide for the care, support and education of your children, and even give them an inheritance, for when you're no more.

Although every one of these documents is important for your estate plan, you do not need to draft them all at once. You can start with two or three of the most pressing ones then gradually add to your plan as you go along.

How will the procedure go?

Due to the current realities imposed by COVID-19, much of the “normal” procedure for creating an estate plan has been impacted. However, the basics of the procedure are still the same and with the help of technology, we are pivoting to continue to provide these services via electronic means. Here's what you can expect from the process:

  • Identify your goals: As always, the first step in creating your estate plan is to identify your goals. Knowing what you wish to achieve with the plan will help you understand better what documents and strategies should form part of the plan.
  • Schedule a consultation: Your next step will be to schedule a consultation with us by either calling us at (515) 451-1260 or filling our contact form. We will reach out to you within 24 hours of your call or email and discuss with you as to a convenient time for a consultation.
  • Provide instructions: Since shelter-in-place and social distancing order are still in effect, the consultation can take place online. Either at this meeting or through a series of meetings, you can then share your goals with us and provide instructions on what documents you want to become part of your estate plan.
  • Draft your estate plan documents: Utilizing our extensive knowledge of wills and estates law in Iowa, we will draft the documents as agreed and regularly interface with you for specifics that meet the requirements of the law.
  • Witnessing and notarizing: Although the normal process of witnessing and notarizing estate plan documents was solely physical, changes are being made at this period. We are also adopting measures to provide remote witnessing and notarizing in line with thestate's emergency proclamation and social distancing measures.

We also continue to review our process to ensure that people who need time-sensitive estate planning documents can continue to access them without undue delay.

Speak to our estate planning attorney today

If you are considering making your estate plan, contact The Smith Law Firm, PLLC today. Our estate planning attorney will help you understand what options are open to you and how to go about creating an estate plan that lets you secure your future and that of your heirs.

About the Author

Shawn Smith

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.” Justice Thurgood Marshall, U.S. Supreme Court (1967-1991) What do you need in an att...

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