For many of us, the coronavirus pandemic has generated not only fear, but a call to action. We’ve drastically changed how we live, travel, work, shop, keep in touch with our friends and loved ones, and even how we raise our children. We’ve quickly learned to adapt our behavior to help protect ourselves and our families.
What too many people have forgotten, in the urgency of the moment, is to attend to the estate planning they have procrastinated about for years.
We’re all a bit like the Arkansas Traveler of the famous folk song, who couldn’t fix his roof when it rained and didn’t see any need to fix it when it was sunny. We may put off our estate planning when we’re busy with our normal routine. But now, in the midst of a crisis, we feel overwhelmed, with our focus on more immediate needs. As in the folk song, the roof has still not been repaired; an estate plan hasn’t been created to deal with life’s unexpected blessings or calamities. There’s got to be a better way.
Take Measures to Control the Uncontrollable
COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. We still see mounting numbers of the sick and dead, and watch as small businesses suffer during the protective shelter in place provisions.
We can’t control a natural calamity such a pandemic. But each of us can do our part to protect our families and friends, with measures like social distancing and masks. Similarly, while we can’t predict or prevent all of the events that will impact our lives, we can prepare for eventualities.
Preparing for the future is where a skilled estate planning attorney is invaluable. An estate planning attorney may help you to do any of the following:
- Ensure that your assets pass smoothly to your chosen beneficiaries
- Avoid the costs and delays of probate proceedings
- Protect your assets from creditors and unnecessary taxes by establishing trusts
- Name guardians for your children
- Leave money to charities or educational institutions that are meaningful to you
- Designate someone to manage your finances if you are incapacitated
- Designate someone to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so
- Decide what medical steps you want taken to keep you alive if the worst occurs
- Protect disabled loved ones from losing their benefits if they inherit assets from you
- Provide that minors and others may receive their shares in trust, rather than outright, to ensure that the funds are used responsibly for their health, education, and support, and not dissipated through misfortune, such as a medical emergency, poor financial planning, substance abuse and addiction, extravagant spending, predatory lenders, or divorce
Not every one of the items on this list applies to everyone. An experienced estate planning attorney will know which questions to ask to better understand and address your particular situation and address your unique needs.
Qualities a First-Rate Estate Planning Attorney Must Have
There are certain non-negotiable traits you should look for in an estate planning attorney. The attorney should possess the following qualities:
- Be well-credentialed
- Have a reputation for integrity, in-depth knowledge and empathy with clients and peers
- Have the required skill set to draft and review all necessary documents
- Be attentive and astute about which estate planning tools may work best
- Be a good communicator — able and willing to answer questions, clarify, and reassure
- Be prepared to amend your documents as your life circumstances change
- Ensure that your loved ones will avoid the delay and cost of probate
- Make certain that all of your documents are unambiguous and legally binding, to help avoid contentious family interactions when you pass away
Estate Planning Is a Strategic Approach
It’s important to have a comfortable relationship with your estate planning attorney because you may be meeting with that individual on a regular basis to make certain that your paperwork is current. It may be necessary to amend documents, for example, as a result of:
- The illness or death of a loved one
- The birth of a child
- Changes in your marital, health, or employment status
- The purchase or sale of real property
- The establishment, purchase, or sale of a business
- Changes in your marital, health, or employment status
- The development of special needs in a loved one
- A significant inheritance
- Any other significant change in your financial or life circumstances
At times like this, during the current pandemic, we become aware, sometimes as the result of a tragedy, that we may be missing the documents we should have available, such as:
- Last Will and Testament (will)
- Durable Power of Attorney
- Advance Medical Directive
- Revocable Living Trust
- Living Will
Lacking these documents may seem worrisome now; it may be a catastrophe in the future.
Don’t Wait for the Next Pandemic To Contact a Strong Estate Planning Attorney
When the warning bell of COVID-19 sounded, some people did reach out to make urgent contact with a qualified estate planning lawyer.
Amidst the chaos, clients and attorneys faced new challenges as they often could not meet face to face, or fully notarize the completed documents, due to shelter in place precautions. But many clients still felt the need to secure themselves and their families as best they could, when faced with an immediate crisis.
If you were not one of those individuals, what are you waiting for? Take charge of your life today. Protect your family. Do what you can to prepare for the future now, instead of waiting for the next pandemic.