Not to be an alarmist, but the recent spread of coronavirus has me thinking about estate planning during a possible pandemic. Only time will tell if things will get worse, but the ease by which coronavirus is spreading and its potential mortality rate is relatively high. With this being said, here is some available information as of February, 2020:
- 80% of the cases seem to be relatively mild
- 20% of the cases turn more severe
- The mortality rate is preliminary but seems to range between 2-3% of those who contract it
- The mortality rate seems to rise as we get older - children are less susceptible
- It seems to be spread easily, such as through the air and through surfaces that can hold the virus, unlike other recent viruses (SARS, etc.)
Of course, do not get your information about coronavirus from our webpage - follow the Center For Disease Control (CDC) for the most recent information.
If this is the case, I think about things from an estate planning perspective and what would happen if things get worse, as many experts think will happen as it spreads so easy. We are already receiving advice about stocking up on food and medicines. But what should you do from a legal perspective?
- Review your last will and testament or living trust - are they accurate to your wishes if you were to die tomorrow? These are the things you want to think about here:
- Will your executor or successor trustee be able to serve?
- Is the named executor or successor trustee still the best person to help?
- Do you have the correctly named beneficiaries? Are they still living?
- Is the beneficiary responsible? Should they receive their bequest outright or in a trust for their benefit?
- Would you want to protect your heirs' inheritance from ex-spouses? Your estate plan can do that.
- Trust Funding: If you have a revocable living trust, are your assets transferred to your trust? Generally speaking, most of your assets should be titled to your trust in order to avoid probate upon your death.
- Do you have your durable power of attorney done? Your advance directives? These documents are very important in the event you became incapacitated. They should be done by a good elder law attorney and not downloaded from the internet.
- Beneficiary designations: Now would be the time to check the beneficiary designations of your IRA/401k/annuities and life insurance to make sure you have the correct beneficiaries named upon your death. Remember that your will or trust generally does not control all of your assets.
With these important matters, here are a few miscellaneous matters we would consider:
- Florida does not recognize handwritten or "holographic" wills unless they are executed in the correct formality. While an attorney should be used to create your estate planning documents, any will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, who all sign the document in each other's presence. This means that if you are sick, signing your will could get other people (the two witnesses) sick!
- Dying without a last will and testament - if you did not prepare and you (or a loved one) die without a will, all is not lost. The state of Florida has written a last will and testament for you. The details of dying without a last will and testament - called dying intestate - is outlined here.
- Avoiding probate - there are good ways to avoid probate and bad ways to avoid probate. Make sure you have good legal advice on asset ownership, what assets are going through probate, what assets are in your living trust, and more. Do not go it alone and meet with a good attorney to make sure your estate planning documents works together with your assets.
- Make sure you have your original estate planning documents and your family knows where they are.
- Here is a checklist for items to consider to make sure your estate plan is in order.
- Have you made these mistakes with your estate plan? Now is the time to look!
Realistically speaking, time will be extremely important in preparing before you get sick. This is from my own, personal angle but if you need legal work on your estate plan, no attorney would want to put him/herself, or their staff, in harm's way by intentionally exposing themselves to someone sick with coronavirus. If you get coronavirus without proper preparation, do not expect to try and get legal work done as you may spread the virus to the attorney and their staff.
Only time will tell if coronavirus will get worse and spread throughout the world, but NOW is the time to make sure your estate plan is in order. If you get sick, you will likely not be able to get legal advice as you would expose others to the virus.
Please take care and hope that this blog post will prove moot!
EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog post did not prove moot. The coronavirus is growing exponentially throughout the United States and Florida, with deaths likely to reach in the hundreds of thousands. See part two of this series at this link.
If you want to learn more about estate planning in Florida, please download my free book on estate planning, the Top 20 Rules for Protecting Your Florida Estate.