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Executive Order by Governor Makes Estate Planning During COVID-19 Easier

Michael Payne

Michael Payne

Attorney & Partner

We often think about estate planning before a vacation, before a surgery or after a major milestone like a wedding or birth of a child.  These important events remind us to do estate planning and focus on the need to protect ourselves and our loved ones from uncertainty.  We are now, more than ever, remind of the unpredictability and frailty of life.  The current global crisis has many people reaching out to execute their estate plans that they had put off finalizing.  Others are quickly trying to start the process that they should have started years ago.  Regardless of what causes you to think about estate planning, “now” is always the best time to act, especially because you can complete your estate planning during COVID-19 following the mandates, precautions and recommendations avoiding personal contact. 

To protect yourself and your family, it’s smart to be certain that you have the following documents prepared and updated:

A will or revocable trust.

Be sure that your assets will pass to those who you want to receive them after your death. This is critical during crisis times. You do not want to make things any harder than they need to be on your loved ones. Create an estate plan to avoid potentially expensive and time-consuming processes like probate, which may be even more challenging, if your family is confined to their homes or the courthouses are closed to in-person visitors.  A will can cover what happens to your assets at death. This typically works well, but for many who want to avoid probate, a revocable trust is a better option.  Probate proceedings are public, meaning that anyone can examine and access the nature and value of your assets simply by requesting a review of the court file.  Probate proceedings generally require at least six months of time between the beginning of the process until making final distributions (which may be even longer as a result of COVID-19 related court closures).  These are some reasons why people often opt to use a fully funded revocable trust that doesn’t require probate at all. For either a will or a revocable trust, make sure that it’s up to date and correctly reflects your current preferences and family circumstances.  With the new Executive Order in place, these documents can be properly executed even during these times of shelter-in-place and social distancing.

Updated beneficiary designations.

If you have an IRA, 401(k) account, or life insurance policy, those you name as beneficiaries of that account will receive the proceeds, despite a totally different arrangement in your will or trust. It is important to make sure you have designated a beneficiary for these accounts, which will avoid serious complications in the event of death.  For instance, if you have been divorced or are remarried, does your beneficiary designation identify your current spouse?  What happens if your beneficiary designation is not updated after the beneficiary dies?  These two common mistakes often lead to a long and expensive probate process or worse, litigation.

Estate Planning with Trusts

Healthcare power of attorney.

When people are in the midst of a crisis, it’s even more urgent to make sure you will be able to get the healthcare you need. A durable power of attorney for healthcare will give the individuals you choose the ability to make whatever medical decisions you specify on your behalf. Having end-of-life directives that you make is another essential aspect of this document.  Creating these advance directives regarding future health case decisions can help ensure that a person’s wishes are met and relieve family members from having to make difficult decisions in an already stressful time.  Failure to have these documents in place could result in your end-of-life decisions not being followed.  An estate planning attorney can help draft documents that match your specific wishes regarding your healthcare decisions and comply with Missouri law.  Executive Order 20-08 allows for the two witnesses, which otherwise would have to be in your physical presence, to participate remotely via audio-video technology.

Financial power of attorney.

You can designate an agent to help take care of your finances if you become incapacitated or otherwise unable to handle your financial affairs.  A general durable power of attorney for financial matters is another document that allows you to delegate responsibility and authority to make financial transactions to the person you name if you are unable to do so.  This can become a crucial document if you are in a coma or incapacitated.

Estate planning may not have been on your list of things to accomplish two months ago, but our current circumstances remind us that “now” is the right time to complete your estate plan.  By utilizing the provisions of the recently issued Executive Order 20-08 you can take action now and protect yourself, your family and your loved ones.  Complete your estate planning during COVID-19 without the risk of in-person contact.

Before rushing to set up wills or end-of-life directives online, consider a comprehensive plan written by an experienced estate planning attorney which will avoid the most common mistakes in estate planning.  While we face many unknowns, you can feel more confident about your future because you’ll know you and your loved ones will be cared for in the manner you decided.  Have confidence that the legacy you leave behind is the one you planned.  The recently issued Executive Order allows Missourians to complete the entire estate planning process during COVID-19 without leaving their homes.  If you want to take action, you can schedule an initial consultation to discuss how the recent Executive Order has made estate planning easier during this pandemic.  If a decision is made to move forward, the next step is to complete a brief questionnaire and provide information regarding your estate planning priorities.  Next clients receive an email with a link to schedule a meeting via telephone or video-conferencing.  After this meeting, typically the estate plan will be drafted and emailed or mailed to our clients (whichever  is preferred) for their review and comment.  Following the protocols set forth in the Executive Order, a signing ceremony is then scheduled via video-conferencing.  The video-conferencing links provided in the emails take clients directly to the personal meetings and the remote signing ceremony.  The measures instituted by Governor Parson allows Missourians the opportunity to complete their estate planning even during these difficult times.

As we all continue to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and respond to mandates, precautions and executive orders, we will continue to provide updates on our operations to better serve our clients.  Our clients, colleagues and contacts are our primary concern during the COVID-19 situation.  We encourage our clients to speak with their attorneys through conference calls or video-conferencing whenever needed.  Our firm continues to work remotely to serve our clients’ legal needs in a timely manner and do our part in containing the spread of novel coronavirus.  We are working hard to include enhancements to our already established remote working capabilities and continue to implement these important Executive Orders to better serve our clients.

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Frankel, Rubin, Klein, Siegel, Payne & Pudlowski, P.C., Attorneys at Law

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