By: John Farrell
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Estate Planning and Coronavirus
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Coronavirus: Estate Planning in Georgia
The novel coronavirus, Covid-19, has come to Georgia and, as of this writing, over 600 people in Georgia have become infected by the virus. Despite efforts to contain the virus, it continues to spread in many countries across the World. This has caused some people to realize their estate plan may be inadequate. After all, people don’t like to consider their own mortality, but the coronavirus has forced many people in Georgia to think about getting an estate plan into place.
In an effort to protect yourself and your family in the event the coronavirus continues to spread, there are certain estate planning documents every individual in Georgia should have. But, you may be concerned with how to get that plan into place if many businesses are closed. Fortunately, The Farrell Law Firm has been helping families with estate planning by virtual means for years. I will describe how to get your estate plan into place to protect your family during the coronavirus pandemic, but first let’s discuss the estate planning documents you should have in place.
Note: If you want to brush up on the basics of Georgia estate planning (Wills, Probate, Power of Attorney, Revocable Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts and Advanced Healthcare Directives) take a look at these free ebooks.
What is estate planning?
At its most basic, estate planning is the process of deciding who is going to get your things after you pass away and who will be in charge of making sure your things get to where they should go. (Estate Planning is much more than this, but this is estate planning at its most basic.).
There are three things to consider when you begin the path of estate planning.
Define your goals
One of the first things you should do is define your goals. After all, what is it that you want to accomplish with your plan?
- Is the coronavirus or Covid-19 virus having you consider where your assets should go if something were to happen to you?
- Has the coronavirus or Covid-19 virus made you consider health care decisions that would need to be made if you were to become infected?
- Are you planning because you have minor children and you want to choose who raises them if something were to happen to you and your spouse?
- Do you want to protect a child with special needs?
- Would you face estate taxes if you were to pass away?
- Is there a charity you would like to support if you were to pass away?
- Do you want your family to avoid the months and years it takes to go through Georgia’s probate process?
There are many things to take into consideration when you start to get your affairs in order. Having an idea of the reasons for your estate plan should the coronavirus take root in the community is essential to a good estate plan.
List your assets
The second thing you want to think about now that the coronavirus has become a pandemic and you need to get your estate plan into place is to list your assets. This may seem relatively easy, but you might be surprised at some of your things that may be considered an asset. Here is just a sampling:
- Real Estate
- Pensions Plans
- Insurance policies
- Retirement accounts
- Checking accounts
- Savings accounts
- Personal items
- Pictures on your Facebook account
- Your digital music collection
These are just some of the things you might have. An experienced estate planner can help you make sure you have everything listed and help you think of things you might not have thought of yourself.
Who is going to get your things?
You need to think about who is going to get your things should something happen to you. For some, this is easy. It could include your spouse and/or children. (It could even include your pets !!) For others, because they haven’t thought about what they would do should the coronavirus take hold, this is a little bit more difficult.
After you’ve completed these three steps, the next thing to consider is how you want to get your assets to where they need to go. For most people, it means deciding between a Last Will and Testament and a Trust. But, here, we will discuss the 4 documents you should have in place:
Documents everyone should have in their estate plan
A Last Will and Testament
What is a Last Will and Testament? A Last Will and Testament is a written explanation of how you want to distribute your assets when you pass away. Notice that it must be written. Some states allow for oral Wills, but Georgia is not one of them. In addition to describing where your assets go, the Last Will and Testament will allow you to name a Guardian for your minor children. In Georgia, the only way to name a Guardian for a minor child is through a Last Will and Testament, so this is a fundamental document for every estate plan, even if you don’t have minor children. There are other types of estate planning vehicles, such as the Trust, but everyone can benefit from having a Last Will and Testament should the coronavirus take root in your community.
Should you create a Trust?
The second document everyone should have (or consider having) is called the Revocable Living Trust. These days, many people are using the Revocable Living Trust as their primary estate planning vehicle. These people mainly use the Trust as a means to make their estate settlement simple. The Last Will and Testament does not avoid the probate process in Georgia. Instead, it takes you through the probate process. With a Last Will and Testament, this can be a months-long, sometimes years-long, process of distributing your assets when you pass away. Trusts can avoid this lengthy (and sometimes costly) process.
A Trust avoids the probate process by removing your assets from your probate estate before you pass away. In other words, you create a Trust and then you place your assets into the Trust. Because the assets aren’t in your name, those assets avoid the probate process. This is an over-simplified explanation of how it works, but the main idea here is that if an asset is in your name when you pass away, it may need to go through the probate process.
Another benefit of the Trust over the Last Will and Testament is the privacy aspect. Your Last Will and Testament will be filed down at the Probate Court when you pass away, so everyone will know what you have and who is getting it because your Will is now part of the public record. But, your Trust would not be filed down at the Courthouse, thereby keeping your assets and your heirs out of the public eye.
So, while everyone should at least have a Last Will and Testament in their estate plan now that the coronavirus is spreading across the state, many people could benefit from having a Revocable Living Trust in their estate plan.
Advance Directive for Health Care
Another document that everyone should have is called the Advance Directive for Health Care. This important document allows a trust person, perhaps a spouse or an adult child or a trusted friend, to access your medical records and speak to the doctor on your behalf in the event you ever get to a point where you cannot do those things for yourself. If you ever get to a point where you cannot do these things for yourself and you do not have an Advance Directive for Health Care in place, your family will have to sue you to have you be declared incompetent. Once you have been declared incompetent, the Court will appoint a Guardian for you who will make handles these matters for you. So, as you can see, it’s very important to have an Advance Directive for Health Care in place and a part of your estate plan should the coronavirus take root in the community.
Financial Power of Attorney
Like its sibling the Advance Directive for Health Care, the Financial Power of Attorney allows a trusted person or family member to pay your bills and make important financial decisions in the event you get to a point where you can’t make them yourself. Imagine being quarantined during the coronavirus pandemic and you are unable to access your financial records or write checks. Having an agent through your Financial Power of Attorney would be fundamental. This is a document that every adult in Georgia should have in their estate plan.
Now that you have an idea on which documents you should have in your estate plan now that the coronavirus is among us, what should you look for in an estate planning attorney? There are four things you should look for:
Tailor-Made Estate Plans
You, your family, and your legacy are unique. Whether you are planning for the coronavirus pandemic, long-term care, providing for a special needs child, or preserving your children’s inheritance, find an attorney who can craft the individualized estate planning strategy you need. Don’t go to someone who also practices business law, family law, or some other branch of law while doing estate planning on the side.
Find a lawyer who never uses a cookie-cutter approach for resolving matters of probate or Medicare planning, or resorts to using a rote formula for writing up your estate plan. The estate planning attorney should tailor each estate plan to your specific goals, whether that includes ensuring you can afford a nursing home, take care of a special needs child, protect your child’s inheritance after a divorce, and more.
Referred by others
You should see what others have to say about the lawyer. You should use one that has been referred by, at least, hundreds of people. Visit the lawyer’s website and see if hundreds or thousands of others have had great things to say about the lawyer. There is no greater way to evaluate a lawyer than what others have had to say about him or her and their services.
Regularly writes or speaks about estate planning
By working with an attorney who regularly writes or speaks about estate planning, you’ll see an attorney who is on top of changes in estate planning laws. As an example, I’ve written a couple of different books on estate planning. One is tailored for a Georgia audience and is titled Estate Planning for the Modern Family: A Georgian’s guide to Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney. The other is similarly named and ranked as a # 1 new release on Amazon. Additionally, I routinely hold seminars to educate the public on important estate planning topics such as how to protect your home and family from the Probate Court.
Offers virtual estate planning
Because the coronavirus, or Covid-19 virus, has changed the way America does business, you should work with an estate planning attorney that offers virtual estate planning. Estate planning has traditionally been relegated to the conference rooms of the estate planning attorneys and estate planning attorneys have typically required their clients to come to the office of the attorney. This has created a “convenience” obstacle for many of our clients. To address the busy lives of our clients, The Farrell Law Firm started offering video conferencing technology to accommodate our clients by holding the initial meeting by video conference and other conferences with the client by email and telephone calls.
While traditional estate planning normally involves estate plan meetings with trusted advisors (attorneys, accountants, financial advisors), The Farrell Law Firm has been actively engaged in virtual estate planning for years. We use a combination of video conferencing, emails, and telephone calls to provide the same comprehensive planning in a virtual manner that we provide with traditional “in-person” planning.
If you would like to pursue an estate plan by virtually meeting with us, please contact John Farrell at John@TheFarrellLawFirm.com. We will schedule a video conference where we can speak about your objectives, goals, and concerns with your estate plan, whether it is caused by the coronavirus pandemic or whether you are in the natural course of establishing an estate plan. Before the end of this video conference, I will design an estate plan that will meet your goals and objectives.
If you would like us to help you put the designed estate plan into place, we will send you a link by email so you can securely purchase your estate plan. We will then draft the estate plan and send the drafts to your email address so you can review them to make sure they are exactly what you are looking for and so we can address any questions you may have about the documents. All of this is done in the comfort of your home without having to take time off of work, fight traffic across town to meet with us, and coordinate schedules with your spouse. Do what many others have done and contact Attorney John Farrell at John@TheFarrellLawFirm.com to schedule your virtual estate planning meeting in the comfort of your own home.
John P. Farrell, Esq.
Mr. Farrell is the author of Estate Planning for the Modern Family: A Georgian’s Guide to Wills, Trusts, and Powers of Attorney. You can learn about his book here and learn more about John here. Join the more than 1,000 people who subscribe to his Newsletter here. Feel free to send John a message here.