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Managing Finances, Estate Plans and More during Uncertain Times: Part III

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Editor's Note: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, PFS, AEP, JD, is an attorney in private practice focusing on estate and tax planning and estate administration. He is the author of 42 books and has authored 1,200 articles on these topics.

This is the conclusion of a three-part blog series. Part I featured a list of key financial and estate documents that every adult should have in place, and Part II included documents that focused on your health care wishes. In this blog, I share some additional practical considerations that might help you navigate the health and social changes we are all experiencing.

Now that we’ve covered important documents you should have in order, we can highlight additional planning measures that can help you through difficult times.

Make Your Documents Available

Make sure your documents are available for an emergency. Consider creating an envelope with copies of critical documents, such as your health care proxy, HIPAA release and living will, to take with you should you have to go to the hospital. Ideally, copies of your documents should be saved in an online cloud portal that loved ones can access. Originals, especially your will, should all be safeguarded in a fireproof secure location. Be certain that family or loved ones are informed of where that location is and how to access the originals.

Automate Finances

It’s become common during the coronavirus for people to rely on shop at home supermarket deliveries, and ordering takeout from restaurants to be delivered. Have you put your finances on autopilot to the same degree? If not, you should. To the extent you can have bills charged automatically to your credit cards, or debited against your checking account, and have your credit cards automatically paid out of your checking account, you will reduce the need to handle mail which can present a risk, or to leave your home. If you fall ill, having as many of your ongoing bills automatically paid and charged, and as many deposits automatically deposited electronically, will reduce the risk of foul play, make your worries less, and reduce the tasks and agent under your power of attorney (or a successor trustee under your revocable trust) will have to carry out. If you haven’t done this, review credit cards bills (e.g., electric bills phone bills Internet bills, and so forth) and use the vendors websites to set up automatic payments. If you’re receiving income similarly contact the payors and set up electronic payments only. If you’ve put this off before, now is the time to put into place as much of this as you can.

What if You Are Temporarily Staying with Family in Another State

You might be sheltering during the coronavirus outbreak with family who lives in a different state. For example, if you live in New York, you might have gone to Rhode Island to stay with family or friends temporarily. This can be complicated. Will your New York (home state) documents be valid in the state you are temporarily in? The sure way to find out is to have a lawyer in Rhode Island (the state you are temporarily in) review them. This is not something you can use an inexpensive online service for. You might consider having new documents done in the new location but those would supersede the old documents from your home state, and you might have to incur the cost of revising those documents and resigning when you eventually return home.

Can You Sign Electronically?

A critical issue for anyone signing any estate planning documents is what has to be done to make those documents valid. This is a complex question and the rules are changing daily. Each state has different rules determining what is required for a document to be valid. A will might be the most stringent and require a notary and witness to sign the document in your presence, and that might preclude remote notarization or witnessing using e-signatures and web meetings like Zoom, GoToMeeting or WebEx. But many states have adopted emergency legislation, or orders by Governors, to relax some of these requirements. The temporary rules vary widely by state and many are only effective while a coronavirus emergency is in force. So, you really have to be careful. You should be able to find the new rules for your state by searching online, but given the complexity, perhaps now more than ever, if you want to sign a valid document you might need legal counsel.

For more information about estate planning, read the article, Life Changes and So Should Your Estate Plan

The information provided is intended and provided solely for informational and educational purposes. None of the information is intended to be, nor should they be construed to be the basis of any investment, legal, tax or other professional advice. Under no circumstances should these materials be considered to be, or used as independent legal, tax, investment or other professional advice. The information is general in nature and not person specific. Laws vary by state and are subject to constant change.

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