Estate Planning Post COVID

More than three years after COVID-19 first appeared on the scene, many aspects of our lives and world have gone back to something approaching normal: we are dining in restaurants, traveling on planes, attending work and school in person. But some things have been changed forever by the virus that took millions of lives too soon. In this blog, we will outline the changed landscape of estate planning post covid.

The pandemic caught nearly everyone by surprise. People who thought they had years, perhaps decades, in which to make an estate plan, died suddenly. Families were left in grief and confusion. Now that we have emerged into something of a new normal, it is important to reflect on the lessons from those early days of COVID-19.

Don’t Be Lulled Into a False Sense of Security.

Estate planning is one of those things that doesn’t feel urgent until suddenly, it does. Early in the pandemic, when there were no vaccines and few treatments available, an awareness of mortality loomed large. But with the danger from the coronavirus appearing to decline, many people’s determination to make an estate plan receded as well.

The problem remains that people are still dying from COVID-19 and complications from the disease, but the bigger lesson is that untimely and unexpected deaths happen for a lot of reasons. Just because the evening news no longer features a running tally of COVID deaths doesn’t mean it’s safe to put off estate planning again.

Estate Planning Isn’t Just About What Happens After Death.

Yes, estate planning is important to make sure that your family, especially minor children and other dependents, are provided for after you die. But an often-overlooked aspect of estate planning post covid is incapacity planning: planning for who will make your important decisions, and how, if you become unable to manage your own affairs.

The need for incapacity planning became clear during the early days of the pandemic, when many people lay in intensive care beds for weeks, sometimes unconscious. If you want to have the security of knowing that someone you trust is managing your finances and your medical decisions in such a situation, speak to an estate planning attorney about creating or updating advance directives and a durable financial power of attorney. These documents can help ensure that your wishes are honored not only in the event of a serious illness, but if you develop Alzheimer’s or other dementia in the future and need help managing your affairs.

Don’t Forget to Plan for Your Digital Assets.

During the pandemic, a lot of our lives went online. Work, school, and social groups met through a screen; we shopped, banked, and even attended religious services online. Friendships were conducted more than ever through social media.

While COVID may have abated and people are getting together in person once again, that doesn’t mean our online lives are going away. Some of our digital assets, like social media accounts and pictures, are primarily sentimental. Others, like cryptocurrency and investment accounts, have real financial value.

In the past, there was almost always a “paper trail” for assets. Heirs might not have been aware that Dad had an investment account or CDs at a local bank, but statements in his desk or arriving in the mail would have pointed them in the right direction. These days, that’s no longer true, especially for people who conduct their financial business exclusively online.

The bottom line is this: you should talk to your estate planning attorney about how to let your loved ones know what your digital assets are, and equally importantly, how to gain access to them in the event of your death.

The Good News: In Some Ways, Estate Planning Post Covid Has Become Easier and Better.

There are some clear differences in estate planning post covid and before. Estate planning is such a deeply personal area of the law, and much of the process used to be conducted in person, from the initial meeting to the execution of final documents. Now, many meetings and much document-gathering can be conducted online.

While face-to-face contact with an attorney made the estate planning process easier in some ways, it also made it more time-consuming and inconvenient for the attorney’s clients. Just the thought of having to make the time to attend legal appointments was enough to discourage many people from contacting an attorney to get started on their estate plan.

The good news is that the personal service people value in the estate planning process is still available, but the pandemic also taught us to take advantage of technology when preparing estate plans. That means that estate planning post COVID is often more efficient. In many ways, estate planning attorneys are able to give their clients the best of both worlds: personal attention and convenience.

Estate planning during COVID-19 posed its share of challenges. As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s important to remember how essential it is to have an estate plan. To learn more about how to make or update your estate plan in the wake of COVID-19, contact Gudorf Law Group to schedule a consultation.