We are all experiencing an event in life which none of us have ever before experienced, so it is natural to get anxious and panic about the future. With some knowledge, however, one can take steps to avoid the anxiety, at least when it comes to estate planning.
With a lot of free time on our hands, it is an opportunity to get important documents together and to review them carefully. Everyone should have a will, health care proxy/living will and durable power of attorney. The latter two documents are most important now, with the health crisis looming. These documents can easily be prepared by an attorney, without the client having to set foot in the attorney’s office. An attorney can draft these documents, after a phone consultation, and send them to the client via email or regular mail, with instructions as to how to execute. Wills can be done in the same manner; however, with wills, there is more formality in the execution which presents some challenges, but challenges which are not insurmountable.
The truth is that if one dies without a will, the laws of the state in which you reside determine who inherits your estate. The monies do not go to the State of New York, unless no family members, including distant cousins, exist. Many clients think that without a will, all assets will go to the government. That is completely untrue. Should one have a will? Absolutely. But not having a will does not necessarily spell disaster. If the people who you want to inherit are the same people stipulated by law–for example, spouse and children–then there is no need to panic.
It is extremely important now, especially since we all want to keep busy, is to look at our assets, compile a detailed list with account numbers and phone numbers, and leave this list in a place where family members will find it. It is also very important to check beneficiary designations. These supersede the terms of one’s will, passing outside of one’s estate. These designations are relatively easy to change and do not require the involvement of an attorney.
Of course, once this pandemic is over, one should seek consultation with an attorney experienced in the area of tax and estate planning, in order to make sure all of one’s affairs are in order.
* * * * * * * *