If you're like a lot of people, you've been putting off making your estate plan -- maybe for years. Well, being stuck at home flattening the coronavirus curve might be an ideal time to make your will, set up powers of attorney, and organize your records. Quicken WillMaker & Trust can help with all of that, and more.
COVID-19 restrictions will almost certainly make it harder to finish every item on your estate plan to-do list, but with WillMaker you can get a good start. And in these uncertain times, it's better to have part of a plan than none at all.
WillMaker is software that you download to your computer. It helps you make state-specific customized estate planning documents from the comfort of your home. Work at your own pace--do it all at once to get it done, or go bit by bit taking breaks when you need to.
With WillMaker, you can make:
You can make documents just for yourself or for any of your immediate family members. (Read below for more about helping a loved one make documents from afar.)
While WillMaker makes it easy to create these documents at home, getting them witnessed or notarized while under quarantine will likely present additional challenges.
To be legal, you and two witnesses must sign your will. Witnesses should be adults who are of sound mind and who will not inherit anything through the will. In many states, witnesses must be physically present and sign at the same time that you sign the will.
If you live with roommates or in another group setting (like a senior living facility), these requirements may not be hard to meet. But if you live in a stand-alone house with immediate family, social distancing requirements could make it challenging to get into a room with two adults who won't inherit under the will. In that case, you will have to either get creative to figure out how to get your will witnessed or wait until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted to finalize your will.
(None of the 50 states require notarization to make a will legal. However, in some states, notarization of a separate affidavit may make probate move more quickly. )
Living trusts must be notarized. Deeds required to transfer real estate into the trust must also be notarized.
Whether you will be able to find a notary during the coronavirus outbreak will likely depend on where you live and how strictly your area is practicing social distancing. For example, in states that consider notary services to be "essential," you can probably still go to a UPS store or another mailbox store to get a notarization. In more lax areas, you may even be able to get a mobile notary to come to you at home. However, in regions that severely restrict commerce to slow the coronavirus, it may be impossible (or impractical) to get into the same room with a notary.
Some states are expanding (or allowing for the first time) "remote" notarization during the COVID-19 crisis. These new laws are mainly concerned with helping real estate deals to continue, so they may not apply to the notarization of estate planning documents. Local notaries will know what is possible in your area.
All durable financial powers of attorney require notarization. In some states, they also require the signature of one or two witnesses.
Health care powers of attorney and living wills (and advance directives) need either witnesses or notarization—sometimes both—depending on state law.
As with wills and trusts (see just above), social distancing and restrictions on commerce are going to make finding witnesses or notaries more challenging.
That said, there is a real benefit to making your living will even if you don't get the witnesses or notarization to make it legal. If you become unable to speak for yourself, the loved ones who will make medical decisions on your behalf will likely want to know what kind of medical care you want (or don't want) to receive. A living will provides that information, even if it is not a legal document.
WillMaker's Health Care Directive asks you to consider many different medical situations and allows you to document your preferences for each one. Having your wishes laid out in your living will could be a great relief to the people who care about you, even if you aren't able to finalize your document with witnesses or notary.
Even if it turns out that you cannot finalize your will, trust, or health care directives during the coronavirus outbreak, there is still plenty you can do to prepare for a time when other people will need to care for you or wrap up your estate.
You can organize and document the essential details of your life that other people will need to know if you cannot speak for yourself. For example, your caregivers or survivors may need to know:
Through a step-by-step interview, WillMaker's Information for Caregivers and Survivors prompts you for this information and then organizes it in an easy-to-read document. Doing this might be a bit of work, but it doesn't require witnesses or notaries--and it might be a great project to tackle while you are quarantined at home hiding from the coronavirus.
During this time, you could also work on a final letter that your loved ones would read after you die. You could include some final thoughts, explanations about who got what in your will, or just words of affection for the people you leave behind. The contents of the letter are totally up to you, but WillMaker's Letter to Survivors can help you get started by providing a template and asking you some prompting questions.
These two WillMaker documents – Information for Caregivers and Survivors and Letter to Survivors may ease the suffering of those who will mourn your loss after you die. And both can be done without leaving your house.
If the coronavirus has left you at a distance from someone who is of advance age or illness, what can you do to help that person create some end-of-life documents, like those in WillMaker?
If the person is of sound mind, you can help that person create the document, but only by following their direction. For example, you could use a shared screen to walk through the will interview together.
At each step, you could discuss the question, and then either your love one (or you at your loved one's direction) could enter responses.
However, don't help your loved one make end-of-life documents if you have any concerns about:
In either of these situations, get help from an attorney.
If you have questions or prefer to see a lawyer to make your estate planning documents, you have a few options. If you live in an area with light restrictions on commerce and social distancing, you may be able to find an attorney who will see you in person. If that is not an option, you can look for one who can help you via video conferencing. Video conferencing is not the usual way for lawyers to operate, but an increasing number of attorneys may figure out how to do it during the coronavirus. Or you can wait until after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted to see an attorney in person. If you decide to wait, use your lockdown time to become more familiar with estate planning and the different documents you might need. That way, when you finally sit down with an attorney, you will need to pay for less of the lawyer's time because you'll have a better understanding of which documents you need and how they work.