The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) reached pandemic status on 11 March 2020, with the peak of the virus yet to come. The ramifications will flow far beyond that of finance, health and safety.

Tragically, the death toll is climbing daily. This will inevitably trigger a wave of estates that need to be managed, processed and finalised. Although it is uncomfortable, a pandemic usually brings planning for death and incapacity to the forefront.

Our estate planning team has been inundated with queries and urgent requests for documents to be prepared for anxious clients. It seems that this pandemic has fostered an almost immediate appreciation for the importance of an up-to-date estate plan.

Due to the nature of the work involved in taking instructions for, preparing and executing estate planning documents, our estate planning team continues to offer face-to-face meetings with clients. These meetings are subject to appropriate vetting and precautions, including social distancing protocols.

Our estate planning staff are willingly putting themselves at risk to continue to deliver excellent and much needed service to the community. The fundamental importance of continuing these face-to-face meetings is that:

  • taking instructions for Wills and Enduring Powers of Attorney is a very serious matter and must be done properly to ensure that the client’s wishes are followed;
  • solicitors must ensure that their client has the legal capacity to make a Will and that the client is not being influenced by family members – which is difficult to verify via telephone or videoconference; and
  • estate planning documents must be signed as original paper documents and be appropriately witnessed (in some cases, by an authorised witness such as a solicitor).

Notwithstanding the sense of urgency many clients are experiencing, our solicitors are encouraging clients to make well-considered decisions, so that their final estate plan does not need to be revised soon after the pandemic (and panic) passes.

In addition to the health and safety and other measures being suggested in the current climate, we recommend that each person should:

  • know where their original legal documents are kept;
  • have a list of information that their executor or attorney will need (list of assets and liabilities, tax file number, passwords etc);
  • check and possibly update all superannuation and life insurance beneficiary nominations;
  • be alert as to whether they are appointed as an executor, attorney or enduring guardian for another person; and
  • know their obligations and duties in implementing the estate plan of a loved one.

Estate planning is always relevant and important, regardless of a person’s health or wealth. Regrettably, it can take a pandemic to prompt people to take action and to gain a sense of control. We are available to assist with estate planning, including preparing a Will, or obtaining Probate for an estate.

Please feel free to call the head of our Wills and Estates team, Lisa Monaco, at any time.

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