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Remote witnessing and notarization is becoming increasingly more common for executing estate planning documents. To do this, a witness or notary can use two-way audio-video communication technology to witness or notarize an act instead of doing so in person. As of June 2020, at least 44 US states now allow remote witnessing and/or notarization in some form, be it permanently by statute or temporarily by governor’s order.

Just as execution requirements for wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and advance healthcare directives (or healthcare powers of attorney) vary widely between states, so do the requirements for remote execution of those documents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states allow for remote witnessing, while others have temporarily suspended witness requirements for all documents aside from wills. There are also certain states requiring notaries to be specially registered as an “online notary” or require specific software to be used to record the videoconference. Below are the estate planning document execution requirements in Illinois:

Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker issued Executive Order 2020-14 on March 26, 2020. It was then amended and re-issued by Executive Order 2020-33 on April 30, 2020, and again re-issued by Executive Order 2020-39 on May 29, 2020. These orders allow for remote witnessing and notarization procedures.

A woman named Mary Daniel had been unable to see her husband, Steve, for 114 days because of the coronavirus restrictions at the Jacksonville, Florida senior care facility where he has lived since last July. Steve was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seven years ago. “I put him in a memory care center and everything was going really, really well. He was thriving with all the people,” Daniel said. “And in March, obviously everything changed.”

Before the pandemic hit, she was able to visit her husband each night and helped him get ready for bed. However, the facility closed to visitors starting March 11 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the vulnerable population that lives there, so she had to stop visiting him.

Daniel had no idea how long the lockdown would last and started trying to find a creative way to see her husband again. “Originally, I sent an email to the executive director saying, ‘OK, what do I need to do to get in there? Can I volunteer… can I bring a therapy dog? Can I get a job?” At first, the staff didn’t take Daniel up on her offers, and she became restless. She wrote to local and state officials to urge them to end the isolation of patients in senior care facilities.

Many people are under the impression that families that accrue an above-average amount of wealth or assets will pass down these fortunes generation after generation. However, a Wealth-X report shows that 68% of the those whose net worth exceeds $30 million are self-made, 24% of those individuals have a combination of inherited and self-created fortunes, and just 8.5% solely inherited their wealth.

This comes as less of a surprise when one considers how difficult it is to transfer wealth from one generation to the next. Another study that spanned decades and followed 2,500 families found that 70% of family fortunes run out by just the second generation and 90% run out by the third generation.

Wealth can be difficult to retain and easy to mishandle, especially without preparation. Parents might spend time and money to properly organize their estate and later pass it on to their children, but those efforts may be in vain if their children are not prepared for that wealth. Future generations need to be equipped with the values, the knowledge, and the life skills needed to sustain inherited wealth so that they don’t find themselves overwhelmed and underprepared when they inherit the wealth you have accrued.

Preparing a will and estate plan is a normal process for those who wish for their assets to be protected. Things such as a home, car, family heirlooms, art, stocks, or other items will pass to surviving loved ones intended by the deceased as instructed in a will. Dying without preparing a will, then, leaves the distribution of your assets outside of your control and will also take more time, money, and more of a stressful toll on your loved ones.

Mitch Adel, managing partner at Cooper Adel Vu in Centerberg, Sidney and Chillicothe; Steve Gariepy, partner and chair of the estate planning group at Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP in Cleveland; and Beatrice K. Sowald, partner at Sowald, Sowald, Anderson, Hawley & Johnson in Columbus, share about the difficulties faced when an individual dies without having properly prepared a will.

“The first thing is the family should confirm there is no will,” Gariepy said. “Ask around and just be doubly sure of that. After that, we have what is called intestacy laws, which cover dying without a will. They kick in and dictate who the beneficiaries and administrator of the estate are.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many are worried about their health and are putting more thought toward whether their financial and legal affairs are in order in the event of serious illness or death. Pandemic or not, it is always recommended that every person have an estate plan in place, including at least four primary documents:

  • A will
  • A medical power of attorney

When it comes to trusts and their potential benefits, a lot of people assume trusts are for “others” and don’t realize they may be ideal candidates for a trust that could help to protect their assets and avoid probate. Here are some of the most common misconceptions regarding trusts:

“I don’t want to lose control of my assets. Doesn’t someone else control the Trust?”

– Answer: Not necessarily. When setting up a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust, you can be the Trustee (the person who manages the trust). You can also choose other Co-Trustees, such as your spouse, child, or someone else you trust. You also choose who your successor trustees will be, and these people will take over the trust if you become incapacitated and after you pass away.

Over half of all Americans give money to charity, but many have not been able to take a tax deduction since a 2017 change in the tax laws. However, with the new CARES Act, most American taxpayers will be able to take a tax deduction for charitable giving again. The details are as follows:

Section 2204 of the CARES Act allows eligible individual taxpayers to deduct up to $300 of qualified charitable contributions made during the taxable year.

Only cash donations qualify, so donations such as clothing, stocks, automobiles, or other items cannot be counted toward this. This is also only for taxpayers who take the standard deduction, as the majority do. Those who itemize their deductions cannot take this new $300 deduction.

A provision in a recent coronavirus relief package prevents states from terminating Medicaid benefits during the pandemic.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“CV Response Act”) was signed into law on March 18, 2020 and prevents states from terminating any Medicaid recipients who were enrolled in Medicaid on or after March 18, 2020, including in circumstances where there is a change that would normally cause their coverage to be terminated. Medicaid coverage for all recipients must continue through the end of the month during which the public health emergency declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services for COVID-19 ends.

The state must make a good faith effort to contact recipients whose Medicaid benefits were terminated after March 18, 2020 and encourage him or her to reenroll. States are, however, able to terminate coverage for people who request to be terminated or who are no longer residents of that state.

A 30-year-old patient with COVID-19 who was on a ventilator passed away last week. He hadn’t laid out his end-of-life wishes (referred to as advance directives). After seeing the numbers related to his son’s condition, his father was devastated and felt that further treatment was only painfully prolonging the inevitable. His mother wanted to try everything possible to save him. If the patient himself was able to speak, he could have expressed what his wishes were and saved his family from this heart-breaking conflict.

But he hadn’t planned to die.

This tragic situation is too common as families often fail to discuss emergencies and end-of-life wishes ahead of time. It’s even more stressful to make this kind of decision when the stakes are high, as they often are now amid the coronavirus pandemic. This is why it’s so important to learn about and make end-of-life treatment choices before a crisis occurs. None of us want to imagine the worst, but the worst is a callous reality.

Although the coronavirus pandemic began only concentrated in large cities, there are cases now in all states both in cities as well as more rural areas. More and more people are considering what they want to do if they become infected, including thinking about estate planning.

“You start asking yourself, what happens if I become sick?” Jack Garniewski, president of the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils says. “Do I have the proper legal documents in place so that someone would be able to make decisions for me financially and from a medical standpoint?”

Garniewski says that more Americans are now making sure they have a durable power of attorney, which gives another person the power to make financial decisions for them if they become incapacitated. Many people are also planning how they want their property to be transferred if something happens to them.

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