Looking at The Law: Estate Planning and Covid-19 Novel Coronavirus

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By Greg D. Crosslin

We know well that COVID-19 is having a serious impact on our community and round the world. There are many uncertainties surrounding each of us. The recent spread of Coronavirus has caused many clients, friends and family members to contact our firm about Estate Planning during this pandemic. No one knows if things will get worse. However, based upon how easy it appears that Coronavirus is spreading and its potential mortality rate being relatively high, it is something we all need to address.

The numbers seem to indicate that 80 percent of the cases turn out to be relatively mild. The numbers also seem to suggest that approximately 20% of cases turn more severe. Just as you are preparing to protect your family by stocking up on food, medicines, etc., it is prudent to ask “What should I do from a legal perspective?”

Let’s start with the basics: do you have a Will or Living Trust? If you do, make sure it is up to date and accurate. Do your plans reflect your intentions if you were to die tomorrow?
Here are a few questions for review:

– Is the named personal representative or successor trustee still the person you want to carry out your intentions?
– Have you correctly named all beneficiaries; are they still living; do you need to make any changes?
– Is the beneficiary a responsible person? Should they receive their gift outright or should it be given to them in a trust for their long-term benefit?
– Are there new people in your life that need to be included? Are there others who need to be excluded from your plan?
– Do you have your beneficiaries properly identified in insurance policies, your IRA or 401(k) or annuity plans? Do they need to be changed? Remember, these do not pass through your Will and are likely not in your Trust; it’s important your are affairs in order.

Of course, the above assumes you have a Will. If you don’t, then you really should address the issue. Everyone needs a plan!

Do you have a Trust? If you have a Revocable Living Trust, are your assets and property prepared to transfer to your Trust? With Coronavirus, many patients find themselves incapacitated, hospitalized, and unfortunately, a high number on respirators. The time to prepare is now.

Keep in mind:
The State of Florida does not recognize handwritten Wills unless they are executed in the correct format as required by Law.

All Will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, who have signed the documents in each other’s presence. The best practice is to also have them notarized at the same time.

Most importantly, dying without a Last Will and Testament means that your estate will have to go through the legal process. The statutes clearly intend to make sure that your beneficiaries receive your estate through proper distribution. However, there is no guarantee that the state through the probate process will make sure that your gifts, bequeaths and property will go to the person you want them to. That is why everyone should focus on avoiding probate by getting good legal advice and help in advance of any illness.

Issues to consider:
Accuracy of current Will or Trust; durable power of attorney and health care surrogate; access to original estate planning documents; revocable living trusts; is your Trust properly funded; are all assets identified and accessible; are the beneficiaries correct; has an heir been identified on Safe deposit boxes; are my wishes known to my personal representative?

We are all facing numerous uncertainties right this moment. Legal issues surrounding your Estate Planning, your Wills, Trust, and planning for your family, your future and the directions of your intent should not be one of the things you have to worry about.

Only you can decide when it is time to get a checkup. We suggest you get these matters addressed before COVID-19 becomes a bigger issue.

Be well, stay safe.

Greg D. Crosslin is the principal attorney at the law office of Greg D. Crosslin, 3999 Commons Drive West, Suite D, in Destin, FL. Call 850-650-7378 or visit www.destinlegal.com for more information.