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Things to Know About Estate Planning and How You Can Set One Up While Social Distancing

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, people are now anxious about what may happen to them in the future. During an uncertain time like this health crisis, it’s more important than ever to have an estate plan just in case.

According to Samantha Weyrauch Davis, a CPA lawyer at the national law firm, Hall Estill, they are now getting more calls from people who are concerned that they may get exposed to the COVID-19 virus; especially those in the medical field.

However, Weyrauch Davis says that you don’t have to be a doctor or a frontliner to start working on it. Everyone needs estate planning. It’s just that estate plans are being highlighted more nowadays due to the risks during the public health crisis.

Although estate planning professionals recommend those over 18 years old to have a complete set of estate planning documents, some are more crucial for young adults compared to others.

Experts recommend starting an estate plan by the age of 18

Basic Estate Planning for Adults

By the time you turn 18, you should plan for possible incapacity. Designate someone to make health care decisions on your behalf and state what you want to happen in a specific situation.

Parents may or may not have the authority to make legal decisions once their child turns 18, so Sherri Stinson, an estate planning and guardianship attorney recommends coming up with a plan for healthcare. Part of this plan is a health care power of attorney, which lets you authorize a person to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. A living will or medical directive, which outlines what you want to happen when you are terminally ill, in an end-stage condition, or in a vegetative state.

You may also want to throw in a HIPAA authorization form, which permits medical providers to share your medical information to people you designate. Although it is included in the power of attorney in some states, it might not go into effect unless you are considered incapacitated.

What You Need Once You Already Have Assets or Dependents

Having a full estate plan is a smart move when you already have a spouse or partner, kids, or assets that would need to be distributed upon your death. A full estate plan means you have a will or trust, a living will or medical directive, healthcare power of attorney, durable financial power of attorney, and HIPAA authorization.

Through a will, you can designate how your assets should be divided. If you have minor children, you can also assign who would stand as their guardian if you pass away. If you don’t have a will, the state has to make these decisions.

A trust is somewhat similar to a will. However, the assets won’t have to go through a probate court when you die. Trusts can also manage assets like a life insurance policy that you’ll leave for your minor children. It’s more expensive, though, so it’s better off for complicated situations.

One other thing to take note is that the person you name in your power of attorney should be up for the responsibility. Stinson says that you should name 2 other people as a back-up if the 1st person declines or passes away. This way, the document won’t fail.

You may have to complete your estate plan documents once you have dependents.

Estate Planning Amid the Pandemic

Many businesses had to close their offices temporarily due to the pandemic, and that includes estate planning attorneys. Because of social distancing, it’s difficult to put together properly signed, witnessed, and notarized documents for your estate plan during this time. Weyrauch Davis says that it’s possible to work up documents remotely, but the signing part is a challenge because it must be done in person.

Some states have adjusted their requirements to make things easier. New York, Iowa, Connecticut, and New Hampshire now allow online notarization. Patrick Hicks, who works as the head of legal for online estate planning firm Trust & Will, recommends this approach: make a Zoom call, have a notary watch you sign the document, and scan and send it to the notary to have it stamped.

Estate planning professionals are also trying to ease the process. Weyrauch Davis schedules appointments with clients and lets them come to her house for the signing. They make sure to practice social distancing and other hygiene measures like having little plastic bags filled with sanitizer and providing a pen for each person who has to sign. If you have an uncomplicated situation, you may consider availing an online estate planning service.

Just make sure to choose one that offers real legal advice. However, complicated cases like having a sticky family situation, sizeable assets, a loved one with special needs, or a business may require you to consult an estate planning attorney.

You can have your document notarized online in some U.S. states

Storing the Documents

Your documents should have at least two copies. One should be with your attorney, while the other must be kept in a safe place inside your home like a waterproof or fireproof case. You should also inform a trusted person where you placed the documents. It won’t be of help if no one could find it.

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