When the reality of the coronavirus Covid-19 initially began to sink in, people everywhere rushed out to buy toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other items essential for staying at home indefinitely. Now that Covid-19 is an indispensable part of our daily conversations, individuals are becoming aware of another critical necessity: Coronavirus uncertainties emphasize the need to have in place a complete — and current — estate plan.
We are using virtual phone meetings as an alternative to traditional face-to-face discussions to ensure that Covid-19 does not prevent you from getting the legal help you need.
Why Do You Need an Estate Plan — and an Estate Planning Attorney — Now?
Your estate plan accomplishes two important goals. It protects you and your family during your lifetime in the event of incapacity. It also makes certain that your wishes are fully implemented on your death. Sadly, the reality is that the Covid-19 pandemic increases the chances of the occurrence of these events for everyone.
Creating an estate plan with the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney is the only way to make certain that you have the necessary protection during your life and that your assets and property will be distributed as you wish when you pass away. You should never attempt to create an estate plan using forms or a do it yourself package. Even a simple mistake in a DIY estate plan can mean that your documents are not legally valid or that they do not accomplish your wishes.
Durable Powers of Attorney Protect You and Your Family During Your Lifetime
If, because of Covid-19 infection or any other reason, you become incapacitated and cannot make medical and financial decisions for yourself, someone has to make those decisions for you. The durable powers of attorney (DPOAs) in your estate plan are the legal documents in which you designate those individuals. There are two different types of DPOAs.
The second DPOA is your durable financial power of attorney. This legal document designates your attorney-in-fact to manage your finances if you are unable to do so. The designation enables your designee to pay your bills and tend to other financial matters in the same way that you normally would.
Wills and Trusts Distribute Your Property If You Pass Away
If you do not put legal documents in place to provide for the distribution of your assets and property when you pass away, California law will decide who receives your property. You avoid this undesirable consequence by including a will — and often a trust — in your estate plan.
Most estate plans include a Last Will and Testament, which is the formal name for the legal document commonly referred to as a “will.” The role of a will is different in individual estates.
Your will designates the personal representative of your estate and provides instructions to the probate court about property in your individual name. In your will, you may distribute your solely-owned property directly to named beneficiaries. It’s extremely important to emphasize that just having a will by itself – does NOT create an estate plan
Many individuals choose to distribute property using a trust instead of a will. If you create a trust, your estate plan may include a “pourover will,” to ensure your all property is transferred into the trust on your death. The trust instrument gives instructions to your designated trustee about how to distribute the property.
A trust has desirable advantages for many people. It avoids probate and keeps your financial details private. A trust also enables you to control how the assets are distributed to beneficiaries, including the option of distribution over time. Legal advice from an experienced estate planning attorney is essential to determining whether a trust belongs in your estate plan.
If You Already Have an Estate Plan — Review It Now
If you already have an estate plan, you should review it now — and work with your estate planning attorney to update it if necessary. Here are the considerations to address:
- Make certain that all your documents reflect your current wishes
- Check the beneficiary designations on all your financial accounts and life insurance policy, to make sure they are current. Talk with your attorney if they need to be updated.
- Review your list of assets and property to make sure it is complete and current.
- Keep all your documents in a safe place. Tell your personal representative and DPOA agents where the documents are located.