Planning and Administering Estates in the Time of COVID-19: Start Your Planning Now

The current pandemic that has affected the whole world has brought with it a dramatic change to the way we think about many different things. Basic parts of our life like shopping and spending time with friends and family have been upended as we try to find a way to establish a “new normal” while also finding ways to reduce the virus’ reach. It is extremely hard to think of the future when so much of the present remains uncertain, but in the area of trusts and estates, planning ahead is always the proper approach. In the current environment, it may also prove essential to protecting your family and assets.

If you have not begun any formal estate planning, it may seem like an inopportune time to begin that process. However, there are very significant reasons to consider starting the process now. First, as we all know by now, there is no clear end date to the current situation. Even when we can begin to function in something resembling normalcy, many things that were held up or paused during the pandemic will suddenly become pressing. Starting the planning process now can allow you to remove one thing from what may be a long list once the pandemic subsides.

Second, this situation has provided many of us with the clarity of what really matters most to us. An estate plan, at its core, is an expression of the people and things we want to protect above all others. Finally, while it is my hope that no one reading this will fall ill, the possibility is real now more than ever. In the past, procrastinating about planning could be considered problematic. In the current environment, avoiding the process can have profound and detrimental effects on your family and assets.

Once you have determined that you are ready to begin planning, it is important to consider certain general concepts. What are you short term goals for your planning and what are your long-term goals? The former should take precedence, but considering where you would like things to be beyond the next several months and years is also wise. Additionally, given our current situation, the decision as to whom you should ask to serve as a fiduciary (executor, trustee or guardian) has become more complicated. Age and geographic location have become more important factors to consider given the current restrictions and potential susceptibility of older people to the virus.

The form of the bequests or gifts under your estate plan is also complicated by the current situation. Protection of assets for minor children remains a key concern while tax based planning may prove to be less important for the time being. And while testamentary trusts do not pose significant administration issues as it compares to outright bequests, it should be noted that the current situation with the Unified Court System in New York and access to financial institutions might delay the final set up and administration of trusts.

These are unprecedented times for most of us and we can only do so much each day to help our families, our communities and ourselves. Protecting your most valuable assets has become more important than ever and ensuring that your family is taken care of no matter what comes next.

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