Presidents, Pandemics and Planning: A look to 2021 from the Lessons of 2020-Five Ways to Add Certainty to Your Estate Plan in Uncertain Times

2021 begins in less than four weeks and the outlook on all fronts remains largely unknown.  Will there be a smooth transition from the current president to the president-elect? Will the Senate remain Republican controlled or will a 50-50 split render it a de-factor Democratic controlled chamber for the first time in six years?  Most importantly, will the Pandemic that has so fundamentally altered the world dissipate and/or disappear?

The answers to the above questions are unknown and it would be unwise to speculate.  In light of such uncertainty, finding stability in any area of life is a way to reduce stress and shield your family and assets.  The following are some suggestions to consider as we close in on the end of the year.

  1. Consider the use of a Revocable Living Trust-The current backlog in the Surrogate’s Courts has amplified existing problems with the processing of estates in New York.  Coupled with an already insufficient staff and funds, it is unlikely that the current logjam will let up any time soon.  To best allow your family to have immediate access to your assets after death, the best way to achieve this is to transfer your assets to a revocable living trust while you are alive and well.  This form of trust allows the grantor of the trust to continue to have access and use of the property in it while also titling it in such a way that allows family to access it in the event of incapacity or death without court intervention.
  2. Ensure beneficiary designations are updated on all transfer-on-death (TOD) assets-Retirement accounts, life insurance and other TOD accounts provide the easiest means of transfer for certain assets upon the owner’s death.  Failure to name initial and successor beneficiaries typically reverts the assets to a person’s probate estate, thus rendering the advantage these assets have moot. This can typically done online, cost-free and without the need to work with any advisor.
  3. Prepare/revise Power of Attorney (POA) and Health Care Proxy (HCP) documents-Because of current hospital restrictions, visitation and in-person communication with hospital patients has been limited or eliminated.  The increase of hospitalizations also leaves many individuals unable to handle their financial affairs or express their healthcare wishes.  A POA and HCP allowed a trusted relative or friend to step into the shoes of the hospitalized/incapacitated individual’s shoes to make decisions and handle the affairs of an individual while that individual is unable to do so.
  4. Finalize, update and prepare your estate plan-Confronting the need to plan for the future or the need to change previously prepared plans is never easy.  It is often times like these when the fears and anxieties about this are confronted with the reality of what happens if you do not address the underlying issues.  Removing the uncertainty of having an incomplete, outdated or nonexistent plan will remove a significant burden from your life.
  5. Stay informed and stay in touch with your advisors-Educating yourself on changes to the laws is not always the most engaging use of your time, but staying ahead of such changes will help guide you to ensured security with regard to your planning.  Alternatively, regular check-ins with your advisors is an easy and efficient way to keep informed.

William Shakespeare once wrote that “the past is prologue.”  Indeed, the immediate past of 2020 will remain with us for many years to come.  How we learn from it and make decisions from it will dictate how our lives, our families and our futures will be written.

Have a very happy and healthy holiday season and here’s to a much better 2021!-MCL

For more information, please contact info@levyestatelaw.com

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