A Time to Plan: Estate Planning and the COVID-19 Crisis

April 2020

Estate planning is proving to be a topic on everyone’s mind during the uncertainty we are facing today as a global community. If you have been putting off completing your estate plan or avoiding the topic altogether, it is undeniably the time to bring it from the bottom of the list to the top.

During a pandemic, such as COVID-19, we are forced to think about many uncomfortable questions and scenarios that a comprehensive estate plan can address (see our post “Why Online Estate Planning is Not the Solution During COVID-19” here).  A complete estate plan should address all of the following: (1) who can make medical decisions for me if I cannot; (2) who can handle my financial or legal affairs if I become incapacitated; (3) if I pass away who will settle my estate; (4) how will my assets transfer upon my death; and (5) who (or what organizations) will receive my assets upon my death.

If you intend to start the estate planning process or update your existing planning, here are some tips to assist you with accomplishing this in the context of our current societal situation:

  1. You have time to get your estate planning house in order. You may have more time now to organize your estate assets and reflect on your estate planning goals. Utilize this time to complete a task that will give you peace of mind. Step #1 is completing our Estate Plan Questionnaire – reach out to FMJ’s Trusts & Estates attorneys (contact information below) to receive a copy of the appropriate questionnaire for you and your family.
  2. An in-person meeting is not required to get the process started. You can “meet” with your estate planning attorney via phone conference, video conference, or email.  Estate planning documents can be prepared and exchanged via e-mail and U.S. Mail.
  3. You can still execute your estate planning documents. As you may be aware, attorneys providing estate planning services were deemed exempt (essential service) under Governor Waltz’s Executive Order, also referred to as the Stay Home Minnesota Order, and therefore estate planning attorneys can continue to execute estate plans while also practicing social distancing and taking other precautionary measures. The process can be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with safety as the primary concern.
  4. Not all documents require a Notary. Notarization of a Will is not required under Minnesota law and other estate planning documents may only require two witnesses. Therefore, you may be able to complete your documents within the safety of your own home. Additionally, all of FMJ’s Trusts & Estates attorneys, as well as many FMJ employees, are notaries and can travel to you and notarize documents while incorporating social distancing and taking other precautionary measures.

If your estate plan is already in place (and collecting dust on the shelf), the COVID-19 crisis might provide the motivation required to revisit your plan. Here are some tips to ensure your estate plan is meeting your goals:

  1. Review your documents. Review each document and reflect on the accuracy of your distribution provisions and the individuals you nominate to serve in key roles such as your Attorney-in-Fact, Health Care Agent, Guardian for minor children, Personal Representative, or Trustee.
  2. Complete your tangible personal property list. Your estate planning documents may incorporate by reference a tangible personal property list (also called a separate writing) which allows you to distribute tangible items, such as household goods, furnishings, and jewelry to individuals via a written list. Use the additional time you are spending at home to look around your house and determine which items you want to leave to specific individuals and complete the list accordingly.
  3. Check on the titling of assets and beneficiary designation. Depending on the type of estate planning you have in place, asset ownership and beneficiary designations on accounts could be critical to the success of your estate plan. Take the extra time to create an inventory of your financial assets and determine if all of your assets are titled correctly and/or have up-to-date beneficiaries.
  4. Consult your estate planning attorney. As you review your plan, compile a list of questions or concerns and contact your estate planning attorney to discuss and determine if any updates are needed.  This is the perfect time to ensure your legacy plan is accurately reflected in your documents and your estate planning goals are being met.

FMJ’s Trusts & Estates group is here to help you during this unprecedented time. If you have questions, please contact our estate planning attorneys David Ness at david.ness@fmjlaw.com, Karen Schlotthauer at karen.schlotthauer@fmjlaw.com, Matt Jensen at matthew.jensen@fmjlaw.com, or Nicole Flaherty Cropper at nicole.flaherty@fmjlaw.com.