Creating Planning Documents in a Pandemic

We face uncertain and chaotic times. Perhaps, we also have more time on our hands given our efforts to observe social-distancing guidelines or shelter-in-place-orders. Whatever the exact reason, Google has reported that more people are searching for information about how to create a will than ever before. There has also been an increased interest in preparing lifetime documents such as advance health care directives and powers of attorney.

Who Can Help?

Even during times of social distancing, you do not need to do this alone. Most estate-planning lawyers continue to work from home and would be very happy to help you with your planning. Reaching out to a lawyer for help with this process generally is wise as each person’s situation is different and state law, which governs these areas, can vary considerably from state to state.

Also, the cost of creating simple estate-planning documents does not need to be exorbitant. In fact, these expenses are often far less than people expect. A simple will could cost as little as a few hundred dollars. Certainly, the expenses and labor caused if these documents are not in place, or if they are done improperly, would typically far exceed the cost of their being prepared correctly in the first place.

If you are considering including a gift of support to the University of Maine in your plans, the planned giving officers at the University of Maine Foundation are also available to help. Just call or email the Foundation and you will be connected to a planned giving officer who can help.

What Documents Should I Consider?

If you are just starting to think about the process, some or all of the following documents may be helpful as part of a complete plan.

Advance Health Care Directive: An advance health care directive allows you to give instructions about your own health care decisions and/or to name someone else to make these decisions for you, typically in the event you become incapable of making your own decisions.

Power of Attorney: A power of attorney may be used to grant power to another person to make decisions about your property and to use your property on your behalf. This power can take effect immediately or only if you become incapacitated.

Will: Having a will serves several purposes but its most important is making a difficult time less difficult. A will allows you to:

  • Name a personal representative: This person will organize your affairs and handle your assets according to your intentions.
  • Identify the Guardian for Your Minor Children: If you have minor children, identifying their guardian may well be reason enough to create a will.
  • Decide Who Gets What: Outlining which assets pass to whom can be important for making things go smoothly for your family after your death. Even if you hold many of your assets jointly, some assets may turn up that, for whatever reason, are held in your name alone and need to be addressed. Without a will, state law outlines who inherits your property. If there is no one who would classify as an heir under state law, typically, your property would go to the state.
  • Help to Reduce Taxes: A will, as part of an overall estate plan, may help reduce taxes for your heirs.
  • Create a Plan of Care for Pets: A will can outline who would care for any pets you may have at the time of your death and provide resources for them to do so.
  • Establish Your Legacy through Gifts to Charities: Supporting the work of charities that are meaningful to you can create a legacy of kindness in your name that would live on into the future.

If you would like to support the University of Maine in your plans, you can do so through a bequest in your will. We would be delighted to work with you so that your intention for any planned gift is documented and your gift is used in the way most meaningful to you. We are also happy to work with your lawyer and provide suggestions for possible language to use for a gift to support UMaine.

Beneficiary Designations for Retirement Accounts and Life Insurance: Another important part of planning is checking the beneficiary designations for any retirement accounts and life insurance policies.

NOTE: Under the SECURE Act, which went into effect January 1, 2020, individual IRA beneficiaries (other than a spouse, minor child, and a few other exceptions) now must withdraw all of the funds from the inherited IRA within ten years as opposed to being able to stretch out withdrawals over the beneficiary’s lifetime. This could cause significant income-tax implications for those inheriting IRAs. As a general rule, charities are not subject to income taxes. Therefore, if you are considering including a gift to a charity in your plans, making that gift through an IRA beneficiary designation could be a tax-savvy way to do so.

How Do I Get Documents Witnessed/Notarized In Times of Social Distancing?

Your lawyer can advise you which documents need witnesses (typically this must be done by individuals who are not benefitting under the document), which documents need to be notarized, and which need both formalities. He or she can also likely provide you with advice on how to accomplish this safely and legally during times of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders.

The coronavirus situation has taught us that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring. Having your planning documents in order could help you to sleep better knowing that you have added a bit of order to the chaos that currently surrounds our world.