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04-2020 | Important Estate Planning Considerations During A Pandemic Crisis

Important Estate Planning Considerations During A Pandemic Crisis (Published 04-2020)

While millions of us, in dozens of states, are coping with stay at home orders to prevent the community spread of Coronavirus, concern for our elderly loved ones is top of mind. It’s natural to wonder what will happen if they end up getting sick and are unable to complete their estate plans.  This is especially true for our first responders (police, fire, paramedics, doctors, nurses, and employees of hospitals and long-term care facilities) who are at a higher risk of getting Coronavirus.  Fortunately, many states and estate planning attorneys are providing much needed relief.

Can I use technology to connect with my estate planning attorney?

A couple of months ago, the idea of connecting with attorneys and healthcare providers online was unthinkable for millions of us. Telehealth technology was in its infancy. Americans were visiting attorneys, therapists, and other healthcare providers in their offices. Even phone calls with many of these providers were discouraged.

What a difference a pandemic makes!  In a matter of less than 2 months, hospitals, doctors, nurses, therapists, and attorneys have all moved to Internet technologies to administer legal and healthcare services.  The use of audio and video applications, such as Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, Zoom, and Skype are now being used daily.

During this time, attorneys and healthcare providers still have ethical duties to maintain your confidentiality and privacy.  Rest assured that these professionals are receiving guidance from their state bar associations, governors and local, state and federal healthcare organizations on measures that they can take to protect confidentiality during these times. If you have any concerns, please contact your local estate planning attorney and ask them what measures they have taken during this time to protect your privacy as you work remotely together.

What are states doing to make it easier to execute estate planning documents during this crisis?

Many state governors have issued estate planning directives during this crisis that will help ease the burden of being able to act now.  These executive orders are necessary to comply with social distancing guidelines, as well as protect our seniors, and the public in general.

While each state governor has taken different actions there are some general measures that may be in effect in your state that apply to powers of attorney of healthcare & property, wills and trusts:

  • The ability to complete remote notarization via video/audio calls.
  • Electronic signatures may be used to accommodate executing and witnessing of estate planning documents.
  • Be mindful that there are certain time frames and very specific rules are required to take advantage of these provisions. It may be that traditional rules will be reinstated after the crisis has passed.

During this time, each state has acted differently, and these rules are in a state of flux.  It is very important to consult with an estate planning attorney in your state, to learn which rules apply to your state, so that you can quickly and confidently move forward to create and complete your estate planning documents..

Matthew V. Piwowar is a Grand Rapids estate planning attorney.  Mr. Piwowar is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, and the State Bar Probate & Estate Planning Section, the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys, and the Michigan Forum of Estate Planners.

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