The Importance of Having an Estate Plan | COVID-19

By Robert Baldwin
April 14, 2020
Living Trust and Estate Planning

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly created a great deal of stress, anxiety, fear, and questions. We live in a time where our daily normal activities have been abruptly and completely disrupted. As an estate planning attorney, I have been asked many questions about the current importance of having one’s financial and health care legal affairs in order.

Most Americans do not have an estate plan and, generally speaking, prefer to postpone or otherwise avoid plans for sickness, disability, and death. However, not having the proper documents in place can cause numerous critical issues for individuals and/or their families at an already difficult time.

There is no “one size fits all” estate plan, even in a time of crisis. That said, a few documents that most everyone should have and keep up-to-date include the following:

  1. Living Will. In the event of incapacity, a Living Will allows one to direct whether or not to withhold or withdraw certain life prolonging procedures for a terminal condition or a persistent vegetative state.

  2. Health Care Surrogate Designation. A Florida resident may designate authority to a person to make all health care decisions on their behalf in the event of their incapacity.

  3. Pre Need Guardian Designation. A Florida resident may designate who will serve as the guardian of their person and property if they are ever determined to be incapacitated.

  4. Durable Power of Attorney. A Florida resident may delegate authority to another to act on their behalf, whether or not they are incapacitated.

Those Florida residents who own assets should also have a Last Will and Testament, and perhaps a Revocable Living Trust. A resident who dies without a Will and/or Trust will have Florida law dictate how their assets are distributed. One benefit of utilizing a Trust based plan over a Will based plan is the avoidance of a court-supervised probate proceeding. There are many reasons why people plan to avoid probate, including but not limited to, privacy, cost, and efficiency. A socially devastating pandemic is just one additional reason why many Florida residents wish to avoid probate, as most court proceedings stop. Residents who require a probate process in a time of crisis must simply be patient and wait. For family members who require immediate access to financial accounts or wish to sell titled assets, patience is easier said than done. Effective Trust planning can avoid or substantially mitigate such problems.

Florida residents who have already taken action to get their affairs in order are reminded to review their documents and ensure that they are kept current, particularly in light of a divorce, new marriage, birth of a child, and/or other relevant event.

While many of us are quarantined in our homes with a bit more time on our hands, it is an ideal opportunity to put a plan in place or to review a current, possibly outdated plan. Life and death do not get put on hold and neither should planning for them. A well-equipped estate planning law firm is able to handle most aspects of preparing a client’s estate plans virtually and remotely. I am fortunate to practice in a time where I have the ability to speak and consult with clients on the telephone or by using popular video conferencing platforms like Skype, Zoom, or Face Time. Clients are able to quickly and easily review document drafts via email. If you have questions about your estate plan, please do not hesitate to contact us here.