The impacts of COVID-19 have been felt in so many ways. Some are right in front of us and have harmed so many so quickly, like the physical suffering and loss of life caused by the virus, or the astonishing economic impacts such as market fluctuations and job loss. The impacts, of course, do not end there. Instead, we’ve seen our whole way of living change, with new ways of doing things from getting groceries, going to the doctor, and handling financial transactions. This undoubtedly holds true for Elder Law and Estate Planning matters. Indeed, since March we, like many other practitioners, have had to deal with a number of new administrative and practical issues that made otherwise straightforward tasks much more complex, time-consuming, and frustrating.
Take, for example, a woman who recently called to speak about accessing life insurance proceeds left to her by her boyfriend who had recently passed away. She had an urgent need for those assets as a means to continue paying for her primary residence. As is commonly the case, the insurance company was requiring a death certificate to process payment of the life insurance proceeds. Even though several months had passed since her boyfriend passed away, she was unable to obtain a death certificate due to the fact that he passed away in an area hard-hit by COVID-19, resulting in an extreme delay in production of death certificates. To make matters worse, her boyfriend had not executed a Last Will and Testament meaning that she, as a non-spouse and non-blood relative, was not entitled to any of his other assets. As a result, she will likely be unable to continue living in the place she has called home for years.
Additionally, what were once routine bank transactions have also become more difficult as a result of the pandemic. Opening a trust account or being added to someone else’s account using a Power of Attorney are typically routine transactions that play a critical role in an estate plan and/or accessing assets to pay for a loved one’s long-term care. During normal times, these tasks were handled during a quick visit to a local branch of your bank. Once the pandemic hit, these tasks became more onerous to complete due to many banks closing branches yet still requiring in person appointments. Even when banks were willing to help or an in-person visit to the bank could be made, the processing time was much greater than usual. The delays this caused had different effects in different situations including, among other things, postponed eligibility for Medicaid benefits or inability to effectively help a loved one with pressing financial matters.
These are just a few of the ways in which the current landscape has made implementing estate and long-term care plans more difficult. Both, however, make clear that proactive estate planning is more important than ever. Indeed, in each example above, early action would have prevented or mitigated the issues faced. If the boyfriend in the first example had executed a Last Will and Testament, his girlfriend could have easily obtained access to his assets thus enabling her to continue living in their shared home. In the second example, individuals who waited until there was a pressing need to accomplish estate planning tasks were left in a difficult situation when trying to act during the pandemic. This could have been avoided through the simple steps of planning before an urgent need arises.
The bottom line is that this pandemic has made clear that waiting is not an option and can produce some very difficult consequences. Do not put yourself or your loved ones in that position by putting off tasks that can be accomplished today. If you would like to talk to an attorney about getting your estate and/or long-term care plan in order in New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania, please do not hesitate to call our office at 908.204.3477 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney. If you prefer, you can also use our website – www.themurrayfirmllc.com – to schedule a new client in take with a member of our team.
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