Should I Start or Update My Estate Plan During a Pandemic?

An emergency situation can serve as a catalyst, but don’t panic

Thus far, COVID-19 is supplying people with many questions and few answers. If the coronavirus is causing confusion over your will or trust, however, don’t panic: We asked Kristen E. Simmons, an estate planning attorney at Oshins & Associates in Las Vegas, how an experienced attorney can help update an existing plan, or put one into place.

What is the importance of regularly reviewing an estate plan?

It is important to review an estate plan regularly—or, at a minimum, if and when family and/or economic circumstances change. Estate planning documents generally appoint trusted individuals to take care of health, financial or custody issues. As time passes, these trusted individuals may also change. Further, the estate tax exemptions are constantly changing. Generally, with new political administrations, additional changes are made to the tax code—including the estate tax. Revisiting and reviewing existing documents as laws evolve is prudent to ensure that the plan that was made years ago still makes sense if something happens tomorrow.

When do you recommend someone reviews or updates their plan?

We generally recommend reviewing the plan at least every five years. We also recommend that our clients review their estate plan whenever there is a substantial life event, such as a marriage, divorce, or birth of a child or grandchild.

Have you noticed a change in business over the past couple weeks?

Absolutely. Our practice is not just local, but national. We are brought in by other attorneys and advisors around the country to implement sophisticated estate plans. Because of this, we were already engaging with clients via email or telephone calls. Also, as is the case with other national emergencies or world events, the pandemic is certainly making people realize their mortality. With more people currently under stay-at-home orders, some of the time that they are spending at home is being spent reviewing—or finally putting into place—an estate plan.

How quickly could a client and attorney put together an estate plan in case of an emergency situation, like COVID-19?

Our office has seen a bit of a surge in clients concerned about getting an estate plan in place—or finishing up an estate plan that we were working on, but was delayed. It is possible to get something in place relatively quickly, but it is advisable to not panic. The pandemic should be a catalyst to finish or implement the estate plan. For clients who are elderly or have weakened immune systems, we are seeing an increasing number reach out to modify existing estate plans.

Can an estate plan be put together electronically? Or would clients need to come into an attorney’s office?

Most components of an estate plan can be done electronically. Certain jurisdictions require specific formalities for execution of documents like trusts or wills. In many cases, it is not required to come into an attorney’s office. It may be necessary, however, to acquire witnesses to a will or have certain documents, like a deed, notarized. We are seeing an increasing number of queries on electronic notarization, but each state has different rules as to whether that type of execution or verification is permissible.

Are there any common misconceptions you get from clients regarding estate planning?

The most common misconception is that if a client has just a will, their estate plan is complete. There are many ancillary documents, such as powers of attorney for health and financial matters, that should also be at the core of an estate plan. Depending on where the client resides and where the client owns real property, in most circumstances a revocable trust with a pour-over will is a better plan. I would urge clients to allow the pandemic to be the catalyst to start, review or finish an estate plan. However, don’t panic!

For more information on this area of law, see our estate planning overview. For information on more legal questions regarding COVID-19, visit FindLaw’s legal center, or find more articles on superlawyers.com/articles (search for COVID-19).

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