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The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling To Do Their Estate Plans.

Financial advisors and estate attorneys say they are seeing a flurry of inquiries from people seeking to update or draft wills and take other estate-planning measures amid the coronavirus crisis.

“Seeing in the news that so many people are passing away worldwide and here in the U.S., people are getting a little scared,” says Alain Roman, an estate-planning attorney in Miami, who is now working with clients mostly over the telephone and online. “It’s getting them thinking about having a plan in place in case something happens to them.

“Not only are they worried,” he adds, “but they want to do it right away.”Estate planning can be complex even when there is ample time to prepare for the worst, let alone during a fast-moving and deadly pandemic that has sparked panic in financial markets and across the global economy. Experts say, however, that there are a number of universal tips people can follow. For estate-planning and tax purposes, Jamison Taylor, managing attorney at RISM LLC, a law firm in Washington, D.C., recommends that everyone have at least these three basics: a will, a power of attorney, and a medical directive of some sort. These documents will allow for the distribution of assets according to one’s wishes, the ability to make financial decisions on one’s behalf, and guidance for medical professionals on treatment and care.

Preparing the proper documents now may mean avoiding having a court appoint a guardian over minor children or a probate court oversee the distribution of property, Roman says.

Besides the basics, Roman says everyone should review their beneficiary designations on assets such as bank accounts, individual retirement accounts, life insurance, and annuities. Where family situations have changed, say either because of divorce or the birth of children or grandchildren, these designations often aren’t up to date.

Some individuals should also consider a medical power of attorney for their minor child, in which they can give a family member the authority to take their child to a doctor and receive and make health-care decisions on their behalf, he says.

At Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, a Wilmington, Del., law firm, Vincent Thomas says the few clients he has who are in their 70s and 80s have called primarily to ask if their documents are in order. Ideally these questions are asked before an emergency creates special urgency, but the important thing is to ensure any problems get squared away before the worst occurs.

Thomas says his younger clients are more concerned about the economic impact of the coronavirus than any impact on their mortality. Many plan to leave assets to family members, he says, and if their net worth, including the value of their business, has dissipated in the downturn, that changes what they’re able to leave behind.

“Seeing in the news that so many people are passing away worldwide and here in the U.S., people are getting a little scared. It’s getting them thinking about having a plan in place in case something happens to them. ”What’s more, Thomas says, some clients are worried that the crisis may impact the election and laws surrounding estate planning. They’re now engaged in planning to make substantial gifts, he says, and they fear that the estate and gift tax exemption will be lowered if a Democrat takes office. (For 2020, the lifetime gift and estate tax exemption is $11.58 million per individual, and $23.16 million per couple.)

In an estate-planning guide Roman recently shared on his website, he says there are a number of basic things to consider:

• Irrevocable living trusts, which spell out how assets in a trust will be held, invested and distributed before and after death.

• Durable powers of attorney, which allow people to designate an agent to make financial decisions on their behalf.

• Health-care surrogates, in which people can designate a surrogate to make health decisions on their behalf and receive health-care information from their doctors.

• Living wills, which permit people to designate whether they want life-prolonging treatment should they be in a terminal state.

“I’ve already signed three or four clients in the last few days,” Roman says. The clients aren’t fearful they’re going to die, he says, but they want everything in place should the worst happen.

If you would like to discuss preparing your estate plan, call the Law Office of Joseph M. Barton at 415-235-9162 or visit to schedule a free telephone consultation.

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