Parents with their child on the couch and at peace with their estate plans.

Estate Planning Lessons We’ve Learned in 2020

Estate planning is just one of many topics people have been paying more attention to in 2020. Virtual meetings, curbside pickups and social distancing have all become familiar terms as we have adapted to life during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one is certain when pre-COVID activities will return to exactly as they were. Regardless, there are still many things to appreciate about our strange circumstances. For example: Extra time spent at home offers more time with family and to address your family’s needs.

Focus on important tasks during this time when there are fewer extracurricular activities, vacations and other distractions. Embracing the motto “Prepare, Don’t Panic,” here are four areas of estate planning to prioritize while you are spending more time at home:

  • Drafting or updating your will;
  • Solidifying care plans for minor children;
  • Documenting your wishes for health care and end of life decisions; and,
  • Organizing your financial affairs.

 

Estate Planning Priorities to Address During the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

1. Make sure you have one of the most basic and important estate planning documents.

A will is a legal document which allows you to express how you want your affairs to be handled and how your property should be distributed after death. This is an essential estate planning document.

If you already have a will, this is great news! However, this document needs to be updated regularly. We recommend revisiting your will with your attorney at least once every three years to make sure it reflects any changes in your family, the economy and any new financial laws or regulations.

After a person has passed away, their will must be validated in probate court before any of their assets can be distributed. Without a valid will, probate can be a long, grueling and highly emotional process for the decedent’s surviving loved ones. It can take months or years to settle an estate through the court, and the decedent’s property and estate cannot be easily accessed until the ordeal is over. Probate can also be quite costly, depending upon the value of the decedent’s assets.

Many adults will need more than just a will to distribute all of their assets according to their wishes. An Estate Planning attorney will work with you to discuss your financial goals and identify other helpful strategies, such as a Revocable Living Trust.

2. Select a guardian for your minor children.

If a tragic accident left your child or children without both parents, a guardian must be appointed to take care of them. The person(s) you choose should be named in your will as a legal guardian.

Appointing a guardian is a serious matter. You want to make sure the person you choose already loves your children and has a good head on their shoulders for decision making and financial responsibilities. It may also be important for you to know this guardian is willing and able to raise your children in a similar manner as you have — by continuing a nightly reading routine, promoting an active lifestyle or observing religious practices, for example. If you want your child’s guardian to continue these activities, you can include those preferences in your will.

You will also want to consider making other assets available to your child’s guardian for childcare expenses. You should already have Pay on Death (POD) and Transfer on Death (TOD) designations, as well as named beneficiaries, on the assets you own, including:

  • Your home;
  • Savings and checking accounts;
  • Vehicles; and,
  • 401(k)s, IRAs and other investments.

A living trust provides additional instructions on who inherits what assets if the named beneficiaries have passed away. You can be very specific and document a Plan B and even a Plan C if your original plan does not work as intended.

3. Document your wishes regarding health care and end of life decisions.

Unfortunately, accidents, sudden illness and other tragic circumstances can happen to anyone at any time. It is both necessary and important to consider end of life decisions even as a young professional or healthy adult.

For example, if you have already decided that you would not want to be kept on a respirator indefinitely after a serious accident, or if you would not want to pursue chemotherapy for an aggressive form of cancer, this needs to be stated in a valid legal document.

A Power of Attorney (POA) for Health Care accomplishes three important goals:

  • Allowing you to name someone who will represent you and your wishes, should you become disabled or incapacitated and no longer able to communicate those wishes.
  • Providing a health care directive: specifics on when you might want medical treatment or resuscitation efforts to start or stop.
  • Documenting your funeral planning wishes, known as Right of Sepulchre.

Discuss your wishes with your spouse or partner, including basic funeral decisions. As hard as it is to make these decisions for yourself, doing so will make it easier on your loved ones in a time of crisis.

4. Assign someone to handle your financial affairs if you become disabled or incapacitated.

If you ever become temporarily or permanently disabled or incapacitated, you will need someone else to handle your financial affairs. This person should be appointed in a Power of Attorney for Financial Decisions.

This person will most likely be your spouse or partner — but if they are not capable, you need to select an alternate. Both the Power of Attorney for Health Care and for Financial Decisions allow you to select two agents.
 

Get Started at Beck & Lenox Estate Planning & Elder Law

The time to make a plan for the future is NOW. While creating an estate plan may seem overwhelming, an experienced attorney will help you feel confident throughout the process. Trust the legal team at Beck & Lenox Estate Planning & Elder Law in St. Charles to help you achieve total peace of mind.

Beck & Lenox has been serving the greater St. Charles area for more than 45 years. Whether you need assistance drafting your last will and testament or creating a living trust to leave an inheritance for your loved ones, our attorneys have the expertise you need. If you are ready to get started creating (or updating) your estate plan, contact our law office online or call us at (636) 946-7899.