Estate Planning in 2021: The Pandemic and its Aftermath

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2021 | Estate Planning

For many of us, the pandemic and resultant lockdowns forced us to examine (or reexamine) our estate planning.
What does this look like for you? What changes might you expect? Let’s take a look.
Medical Decisions
First, many of us have been forced to confront difficult decisions regarding health care and end of life. So many people go on far too long without having medical decisions written down or a medical agent named. When a medical crisis arises, you may not have your wishes met if no one knows what those are and you haven’t legally designated someone to express those wishes to the medical community.
The first and most important issue to address is getting those medical decisions down on paper. Take some time to examine a couple of things: if you would want life-sustaining intervention; if you want religious practices to be adhered to; if you want organ donation; and if you would want burial, cremation, or donation to science.
Next, this is an issue that extends beyond the self. Your family and close friends may be affected by these decisions as well, especially in who you choose as your medical agent. Talk with your choice for agent – typically a spouse, but if you are unmarried, this could be a partner, close friend, or family member. Go through your choices with them and answer any questions they may have. It may be a difficult discussion, as very few of us enjoy talking about our own mortality, but it’s better to talk through these decisions and know you have support.
Also, if you have parents or siblings who haven’t created estate planning documents, you may want to talk through some of these issues with them as well. In particular, if you may be asked to act as an agent for a parent, sibling, or other family member, it may be wise to ask them what their plans are and if they have created the appropriate documentation. If they have, make sure you know where those documents are and how to access them when you need to! If they haven’t yet put these decisions in writing, you may want to encourage them to do so.
Wills and Trusts
The other aspect of estate planning is the wills and trusts. Going through a pandemic may have caused changes for you, which may include changes in property ownership, who you would name as beneficiary, or who you would name as guardian to children or pets. You may have also decided to change distribution decisions, such as you now want to give more or less of your estate to a person or charity than you had previously decided.
Whatever your changes are, make sure you document them in a legal and formal manner!
During this process, you should make sure that you have updated your beneficiaries lists as well. Your estate planning isn’t just naming an agent or beneficiary in your will – it’s also ensuring your accounts with named beneficiaries, such as life insurance and retirement accounts, are updated and complete. Remember that a named beneficiary on an account, such as a bank account, investment account, retirement, life insurance, etc., often takes precedence over a later change in a will or trust document. Often courts do not want to second-guess what a decedent may have intended, and in some cases, there’s no way for a third-party to know if the decedent intended to change the beneficiary or not. So make sure you check your beneficiaries lists on all accounts and update accordingly!
If you have any questions about estate planning, talk to a qualified professional.