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Estate Planning in The Current Crisis

John Russell April 21, 2020

The coronavirus crisis has caused our society to generally shut down. Businesses and schools are closed, and people have been ordered to stay home. Other than essentials like groceries and pharmaceuticals, people aren’t in the market for a whole lot more.

But the fact of matter is – most people don’t have an estate plan, and an estate plan is essential. Without such a plan, the State’s intestacy laws dictate what happens. For example, in Illinois, if you’re married with children at the time of your death, the law of intestate succession distributes half of your estate to your spouse, half to your children, regardless of their age or financial situation.

So if you don’t have a plan, you need one. Fortunately, the standing orders for closing businesses have declared that legal services are essential. We are open for business, and ready to serve you in helping you put together an estate plan.

But what about the precautions necessary for preventing the spread of the coronavirus? What about social distancing. Not to worry. We can help you develop and establish an estate plan tailor made to meet you and your family’s needs and still follow the CDC guidelines.

The initial planning meeting can occur remotely, either by telephone or video conferencing. I prefer face to face meetings when discussing these matters, and platforms like Zoom video can accommodate a remote but direct contact. Documentary information can be shared by email, fax, or through a secure link. Both attorney and client can be seated at our home computers for the first meeting.

Once I have drafted the documents, I will forward them to the client via email for review. Most editing and explaining can be done via email, but follow up video conferences can certainly be scheduled.

The trickiest part is getting the clients to execute (sign) all the documents.

Prior to the current crisis, remote will signing was unheard of in Illinois. It was possible in Indiana, but the witnesses still needed to physically present in the room with the person signing the will. Both Illinois and Indiana have issued emergency orders to help with remote execution, but I have found them confusing.

Because my office can be open during this crisis, I believe we can safely execute documents in my office.

My office has a large conference room set off from the rest of the space. Prior to an appointment, we will make sure the room is completely sanitized. We have a large table, and the signer(s) will be seated more than 6 feet from anyone else. I will wear an appropriate mask, and be gloved. The pens used will new, and thrown away after use. The witnesses (other attorneys or staff in the office) will observe from a safe distance, and sign their portion of the documents in a separate room. I will scan documents in a separate room (to preserve pdf copies), and return the originals to the clients in an envelope or folder.

If this does not provide the client with enough comfort, we can do “curbside” signings (providing it’s not raining) and have documents signed and witnessed while the client remains in their cars.

We will do whatever is possible to provide a safe environment for clients to sign documents in my office. Legal services are essential, and estate planning is essential. In a crisis where lives are threatened, you need to make sure your affairs are in order. Please reach out to us for estate planning legal services. We will provide a safe and effective way to get that accomplished.