In light of current ongoing coronavirus (“COVID-19”) crisis, we recommend that you
strongly consider the following:
1. Health Care Advance Directives and Powers of Attorney: If you have not yet done so, we recommend that you execute Health Care Advance Directives to appoint agents to make medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to make these decisions on your own. We also recommend that you execute a Power of Attorney to appoint agents to act on your behalf with respect to legal and financial matters. This is useful if you are homebound but need legal and financial matters handled on your behalf. You can download the forms here (scroll to the bottom of the page).
2. Immediate Access: Surrogate’s Courts across the State have effectively adjourned all pending hearings and matters to its Summer calendar. This means that beneficiaries and heirs will not have access to their deceased loved ones’ funds and assets during these significant delays to probate Wills and other Surrogate’s Court matters. In light of this expected delay, individuals (especially those with a high risk of serious medical issues) should plan to make sure that their families will have sufficient liquidity to provide for living expenses during the time that probate is delayed. Clients can plan for possible liquidity concerns by transferring assets to a Revocable Trust which would avoid the long and expensive probate proceeding and allow immediate access to assets and funds. Transfers to a Revocable Trust can be done immediately. Sources of liquid funds might also include life insurance, retirement benefits, joint accounts, accounts with “pay on death” designations and loans.
3. Document Review: While we generally recommend that clients periodically review their estate planning plans in response to changes in their family and financial situation (as well as changes in the tax law), we believe the impact of the current crisis is significant enough to warrant further immediate review. In addition to reviewing and/or putting into place Wills and Trusts, we recommend that clients review the beneficiary designations for their life insurance policies and retirement accounts.
4. Document Execution: We recognize that COVID-19 presents unique challenges with respect to the execution of estate planning documents, especially those requiring witnesses and/or notary acknowledgements. New York State has authorized notary acknowledgment by videoconference during the COVID-19 emergency. We will continue to facilitate execution of documents in a manner that is both safe and in accordance with applicable law. This process of signing documents that require a notary stamp or witness is legally effective and can be done from the safety of your