By Sarah B. Neault

As I sit to compose my thoughts so that I may offer legal advice amid the current Coronavirus pandemic, I can’t help but reflect upon how unprepared many of us are for a crisis situation in our lives. Today, I start week two of working remotely from my home office. I, like so many others, find myself juggling the demands of my profession, distance learning with my four children, running a household, being a good wife, mother, employee, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor – the list goes on. Life is busy. We are imperfect beings, and as such it is far easier to put off difficult tasks such as planning for a major health catastrophe or, even worse, death. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined living through a pandemic. Fortunately, I have planned for the unexpected and I am calmed knowing that if I fall victim to this horrible virus, my husband will be able to make medical and financial decisions for me without the need for Court intervention. I have also selected someone to manage my estate, a guardian to care for my children, and a trustee to manage my assets for their benefit. Take it from me, there is comfort in being prepared for the unimaginable.

Now more than ever during this time of uncertainty, I encourage everyone in my community aged 18 and older to have three basic legal documents prepared: a Will, a Durable Power of Attorney and an Advance Healthcare Directive. Having these documents in place will allow for control and distribution of your assets according to your wishes during your lifetime and at death, and will provide your health care professionals with direction from you regarding your treatment and care should you become ill and unable to communicate your wishes. By preparing these documents now you will avoid the need to have the Probate Court appoint a Guardian and/or Conservator for you, or your minor children – a costly and time-consuming process. I also recommend that you take inventory of your assets and make sure to update your beneficiaries on your bank accounts, life insurance, retirement accounts, and annuities. Having proper beneficiary designations on your accounts will make it easier and quicker for your loved ones to gain access to your assets at your death. You’d be surprised how many people fail to update their beneficiaries after a divorce, upon marriage or after having children. If like most people you prefer to benefit your spouse and not your parents, you need to make sure that your beneficiary designations are up to date!

Though it seems that nearly all businesses in our community are closed, my colleagues and I remain ready to assist you with your estate planning needs and can do so safely. Take time during this period of self-quarantine and social distancing to cross the estate planning task off your to-do list. If your estate plan needs updating, make plans to do that now. If you need to finalize your plan, we (and others) have procedures in place to allow for documents to be signed safely. If this pandemic has prompted you to consider estate planning for the first time, make arrangements to meet with your lawyer telephonically or via video conferencing to get started. We, like so many of our friends and neighbors, are here to help during this unprecedented time.

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