Coronavirus making people rethink wills, estates and other legal issues
There's nothing like a pandemic to realize your mortality. Attorneys who work on trusts and estates are reporting a surge in inquiries. Of greatest concern to clients is figuring out how they can get their documents signed and properly executed, said Jason Torres of Torres Law Office. In most cases, clients will sign their wills, powers of attorney and health care proxies in office in the presence of their attorney. This ensures that all the proper formalities are satisfied.
What should you know when drafting a will and power of attorney?
The options for those who do not have a power of attorney are limited, Torres noted. If a client needs an agent to act on his or her behalf in connection with a property or financial matter, the power of attorney can provide that authority. If a power of attorney is not in place, the family may need to petition the court to have a guardian appointed for the individual who needs assistance. A guardianship proceeding is significantly more costly than having a power of attorney prepared and can be quite disruptive to the family, Torres said.
How can you update a will quickly if you fall ill to the pandemic?
Wills can be updated very quickly, either by revising an original will or having the attorney prepare a simple codicil, an addition, to the will. The real issue is whether the will can be properly executed, Torres said. Those affected by the pandemic are likely hospitalized and/or in quarantine. Cuomo’s executive order provided the necessary guidance for remote witnessing, allowing the coordination of a signing with the necessary witnesses and notary. The trickiest part can be that the witnesses need to receive a copy of the signature pages the client signed on the same day, which works only if the client has the ability to scan or take a picture of the document and email it to the witnesses.
What's the best way to update an old will?
If you are still working with the same attorney and he or she has the ability to update your documents via a word processing program, this can be the easiest and most cost-effective way to update your will, depending on the extent of the changes, Torres said.
Alternatively, the attorney can prepare a codicil to your existing will. The codicil changes certain provisions of your will but leaves the balance of it the same. Depending on the necessary updates, it may be easier to draft a new will versus making sure all of the necessary changes are made in the codicil.