With COVID-19 affecting more and more Americans, people across the country are scrambling to set up wills and end-of-life directives. Over the last two weeks, online will companies have seen an explosion in users, according to the article, “Coronavirus Pandemic Triggers Rush by Americans to Make Online Wills,” published by CNBC.com. This contains some common DIY wills mistakes, and makes it clear that one-size-fits-all does not apply when it comes to important legal documents.
However, as online wills grow in popularity, estate and elder lawyers increasingly caution against using them, for several reasons.
- Will the documents be legally valid? Creating a document is one thing. Executing it properly is another. Since most of these do-it-yourself wills are created and executed without any oversight from an attorney, a larger number of wills may not be executed in compliance with the proper will formalities, and that could end up invalidating the will. There are strict rules about who may witness, the proper language for certain provisions, and the need for notarization.
- Do you fully understand the questions and consequences of your answers? There are many nuances in estate planning, as well as a good bit of legal jargon. Confusion over the question or the consequences of a decision can result in costly mistakes … and could even mean your will won’t hold up to a challenge in court. Even basic estate planning terms such as “guardianship” and “power of attorney” are often conflated.
- What about asset protection? There is more to estate planning than just giving your stuff away after you die. How you transfer ownership of your assets can mean the difference between a protected inheritance and legacy for many generations … or the squandering or loss of a person’s life’s work within a few years … or months … after they pass away. Do you understand probate and what that means for your children or other surviving family?
- Is there any planning for long-term care? It’s estimated that more than half of people turning age 65 who will need some type of long-term care services in their lifetimes. Proper estate planning should balance the possibility that you will need assistance paying for nursing home care (Medicaid), with other estate planning goals. Mistakes in this area could disqualify you from receiving assistance should you need it.
- Did you include healthcare directives? Every estate plan should include a healthcare power of attorney that is contains the proper language to meet your end-of-life wishes and is properly witnessed.
- Do you need a trust and if you have a trust is it properly funded? Assets need to be re-titled and beneficiaries restructured in many cases in order to allow a trust to do its job.
As COVID-19 keeps people home, meeting with a lawyer to create a will could not be easier. In most states, a lawyer’s services have been deemed “essential,” even during stay-at-home orders. We are doing everything we can to make our services as easy and convenient for you as possible, including meeting over telephone, online video services and other innovative ways to ensure you get the planning you need while complying with all safety measures.
Speak with an experienced Chicagoland estate planning attorney who has helped families with these issues before. This will ensure that you get not only the proper paperwork, but get it executed properly. At the end of the day, you will get the peace of mind of knowing that your family has been protected to the greatest extent possible.
There are now new rules to allow attorneys to assist families with estate planning without every having to meet in person. Talk to your lawyer about what options are available to you.
Resource: Coronavirus Pandemic Triggers Rush by Americans to Make Online Wills, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/25/coronavirus-pandemic-triggers-rush-by-americans-to-make-online-wills.html