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How To Make Your Estate Plan Amid The Coronavirus Pandemic


The current crisis may have caused more Americans to contemplate mortality. This has reportedly prompted a large number of Americans to write or rewrite their wills with many using online will makers and services. I'm joined now by Mildred Gomez, an estate planning attorney in Miami. Attorney Gomez, thanks so much for being with us.

MILDRED GOMEZ: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Are you getting different kinds of questions from your clients and cold calls these days?

GOMEZ: Yes. What we are seeing a lot of is people who had already started this process very anxious to wrap it up. You know, not just in their estate planning documents, what we, you know, typically think of as, you know, a will or revocable trust, clients are also increasingly more concerned about their powers of attorneys, their health care surrogates, their living wills, the documents that would - you know, what we call life documents because they're effective while you're alive.

SIMON: What should people know when it comes to writing a will?

GOMEZ: I think it's really important when people are writing a will to consider the fact that wills are governed by state law. To give you an example, each state kind of has their own execution requirements. Some states require two witnesses and a notary, other states perhaps only one witness. Some states currently allow for online execution of these documents while other states don't.

SIMON: Can people really write a will online using one of those boilerplates?

GOMEZ: What I would say to that - if that is what's - the need that somebody has either because of, you know, right now movement restrictions or it being cost prohibitive, that you make sure that you're working with a reputable provider that has done their homework, that has done their due diligence and that you feel understands your state-specific issues.

SIMON: Ms. Gomez, remind us again why wills can be important to people because I think there are a lot of people that just assume, well, you know, if I get sick suddenly and then pass away, you know, my children get everything, and it's not much, so why do I need a will?

GOMEZ: Every state has what we call their own intestacy statutes. And those are the statutes that set forth how assets will pass when you pass away. Some states, you know, give a certain percentage to the spouse. Sometimes it depends on whether the children are minors or they're not minors. Families aren't - we're not all the same, right? Some families, you have kids from different marriages or from different unions. Some couples have been together for a very long time but aren't legally married. It is very possible that without a will your assets will pass how you would have wanted them to anyway. But, again, it's important to look and make sure.

So I think it's an exercise in just making sure your affairs are in order. It's kind of like when you do your spring cleaning in your home and you make sure that, you know, you have all the things you need, everything's where it's supposed to be, everything, you know, is how you imagine it so that if, God forbid, something happens to you, your loved ones can pick up from where you left off and do it in the most seamless way possible and, more than anything, because what you leave behind when something happens to you are your loved ones.

SIMON: Somebody listening to us now might feel, well, geez, I never thought of that before. I think I need a will. My memory is when the last time our family redid a will - and I don't think we had anything that complicated - it took several appointments with an attorney and months of time.

GOMEZ: You know, I always tell clients this is going to take as long as you need it to take. And what I mean by that is the choices that you have to make and the people you have to appoint in the documents and the questions you have to answer. OK. And I have seen many clients become paralyzed by those questions and those choices because they want to make sure that they're making the perfect choice. And I do always tell clients there do not be paralyzed by perfect because there is no perfect document because what you write today may be perfect today, but circumstances change. So setup the best documents you can for today.

If this situation has shown us anything or taught us anything, it's that none of us know what tomorrow is going to bring. But we know what today holds, so prepare your documents so that you're comfortable with them today and you can sleep tonight. If circumstances change in the future, you can always update these documents. As long as you have capacity to do so, you just have to make those choices.

SIMON: Mildred Gomez is an estate planning attorney in Miami. Thanks so much for being with us.

GOMEZ: I loved it. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.