Most often, folks get around to organizing their estate when the fact of their mortality comes into view. For many, this means the twilight years of life unless, of course, something unforeseen arrives that hastens a confrontation with the inevitable. In early 2020 that “something” showed up in in the form of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Suddenly, no one was safe and far too few were prepared. Luckily, it’s not too late.
Estate Planning Attorneys are an Essential Service
However ever present DIY estate planning platforms may be these days, you’ll want to work with an attorney when organizing your affairs. Any other avenue is simply too risky. It’s good to know, then, that lawyers remain open as an essential service in most states. Nonetheless, making an appointment with a legal professional is not the first step to estate planning during a pandemic.
1. Reflect on goals and wishes.
Before talking to a lawyer and even before addressing family, you’ll want to think about who you want to help make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you become unwell, what assets you own, how you’d like them distributed upon your death, who should be in charge of your stuff when you die, and whether any complex family dynamics need be addressed in the process.
2. Set up a family meeting.
Once you’ve done the work of thinking through the above, organize a family meeting. However strange it may be to address such a sober subject over an online platform, remember that you’re doing this out of concern for yours and your family’s well-being. Don’t create unnecessary risk by inviting everyone over for dinner. Ensure that your chat is succinct and to the point, leaving delicate, individual conversations for a later date.
3. Reach out to an experienced estate planning attorney.
Beware of the many lawyers looking to capitalize on the moment by offering estate planning services while lacking proper experience. Find someone you trust and arrange to meet in the safest way possible. Like so many other businesses, lawyers across the country are taking great pains to continue serving their clients while also caring for their well-being so don’t worry, meeting safely is possible (even if that means across a screen or through your car window)!
4. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
While any attorney worth their salt (and your money) will ensure that you’ve considered all essential documents while drafting your plan, they can work only with the information you provide. You can be sure they’ll address advance directives, wills and trusts, retirement and investment accounts, digital assets, and life insurance, but unless you tell them about your beloved puppy, they might overlook the need to ensure their well-being is considered, too. While designing your plan, be sure to consider not only material value, but sentimental value, as well; after all, it is often family heirlooms that lead to the worst squabbles.
5. Review your plan periodically.
An estate plan is a living document so long as your life continues to grow. This means making updates anytime a significant event such as a marriage, birth of a child, or divorce occurs. Likewise, it means adjusting designations as friendships shift, grow, or dissipate. Again, a good attorney will remind you of the importance of estate plan maintenance but, of course, can only work with the information they have.
While the above are each essential to successful estate management, the number one tip I can give for managing assets during a pandemic is to act now. Not only does an estate plan provide the peace of mind of knowing you are prepared for any possible outcome, it also is an important vehicle for protecting your finances. With so much uncertainty on the horizon, there is every reason to hurry. After all, it may have been unpreparedness that got the world into this mess in the first place.