The effects of the coronavirus continue to create uncertainty in our community. We’re unsure how long this situation will last and what we should do to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Sarah Siedentopf, an Atlanta estate planning and probate attorney, explains how estate planning can create peace of mind and reduce our anxiety over COVID-19.
As with many businesses and areas of law, the field of estate planning has felt the impact of COVID-19. There is a new sense of immediacy. “People are feeling a lot more urgency around an issue that was previously easy for them to put off,” explains Sarah. “Fortunately, facing the future and coming up with a plan can help lift a burden that people sometimes don’t even realize they were carrying.” Now, more than ever, having an estate plan in place can give someone a sense of peace.
Over the past several months, Sarah says she has received a number of calls from people who are concerned about having the right documentation in place to care for their families. “I’ve received a significant number of calls from people who have loved ones in the hospital and are trying to navigate their care. This is especially challenging because no one is being allowed into the hospitals right now. For one client, I had to organize the signing of her estate plan by video conference, with the help of the hospital staff.”
It’s fair to say that life over the last six months has been a rollercoaster of emotions, frustrations, and concerns. But we’re beginning to look forward to the future and figuring out how to make the best of things. Georgia, for example, has adopted some new policies in response to the health crisis. “The state is now allowing remote notarization, which is a much-needed option during this time,” Sarah explains. “The Georgia Governor has also authorized the remote signing and witnessing of wills, but this has not been as seamless as one might imagine, because of restrictions placed on this temporary policy.”
While Georgia has made some temporary provisions, the question still remains – if someone wants to do their estate planning right now, is it actually safe? As Sarah explains, “It’s much safer to do your estate planning now, rather than to wait. Knowing you have the right team of people set up to take care of you and your family is well worth the challenge of working through the estate planning process.” At Sarah’s firm, Siedentopf Law, her team is doing everything remotely right now, except for the signing of documents. Her firm does offer remote signings for high-risk clients, but the majority of her signing ceremonies are conducted outdoors, with everyone wearing masks and gloves. “This allows us to handle all of the required technical aspects of the signing and keeps everyone as safe as possible,” says Sarah.
If you are just beginning the estate planning process, it’s important to be aware of the essential documents. Everyone should have a will, a power of attorney, and an advance directive for health care in place. Parents should also consider designating a standby guardian in their will. As Sarah explains, it’s important to have an estate plan that protects both your family and yourself: “Having a power of attorney and an advanced directive for health care is very important. These documents designate trusted friends or family members to make decisions for you and make sure that you are taken care of, even when you can’t take care of yourself. Knowing you have a backup if you need it is worth its weight in gold.” For additional information and resources, you can read Sarah’s book Peace of Mind Through Estate Planning: A Guide for Georgia Residents. The book is designed to educate about issues and options as well as helping people to get their thoughts and discussions started. You can download a digital copy from Sarah’s website or contact her directly for a print version.
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