The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has led to unprecedented actions, quaratines, closing of restaurants, limited gathering of people, and given us new phrases. Who knew what “social distancing” might mean just a few weeks ago? I certainly would not have used that term to describe staying 6 feet or more away from most people, and probably would have thought of the phrase more in terms of pulling away, or staying away from people I really did not want to associate with in a social setting. Now we have a whole new phrase to address how we are trying to prevent the spread of the virus as a society.
To be clear: I am not writing this blog to spread panic, or to say the world is ending, nor am I saying that the virus is nothing to worry about. Instead, I am simply stating that the coronavirus is impacting our world, and that the virus is impacting my work and life, as I am sure it is impacting yours.
These are my observations and thoughts on how I have seen an impact from the virus thus far: The virus has spurred people to call me and get their estate plans going sooner than might have otherwise happened, but has also kept people from meeting with me, as they do not want to risk exposure. As I meet with people, they have a sense of urgency to get things done, which is understandable. Having said that just because a new virus causes urgency, it does not mean estate planning can happen any faster. You want to get your estate planning done, and I want to help you, so we need to proceed as best we can, while still living our lives through this difficult time.
First, A Little Background on the Virus and Responses to the Virus
I have seen people on various social media platforms express the idea that anyone who is not isolating themselves is somehow a lesser citizen, or unworthy of being alive. Others espouse the position that the virus is nothing more than a severe cold, and is not that big of a deal. I am not advocating either position, but rather discussing how the virus is impacting lives, and what I see from the spread of the virus and society’s response.
Currently, the numbers of infected individuals are increasing daily. Statistically, most of the people who die from the coronavirus are over the age of 60, and people who have chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes have a 5–10% higher chance of dying from it. However, this does not mean that those who are not in high risk categories should be reckless, or take unnecessary risks to become infected. We simply need to recognize how the virus may impact your life, and how to stay safe while still living life.
Without taking away from the seriousness of the virus outbreak, I do think it is worth noting that the coronavirus, while highly contagious, does not have the death rates of a disease like the Black Death that killed half of the population in Europe during the middle ages. I am not downplaying the seriousness of the outbreak, but I am trying to keep a little bit of perspective. While acting as if everything is fine does not seem like the correct approach, I am not sure the final apocalypse and end of the world is yet upon us with this COVID-19 outbreak.
Estate Planning is Always Important
As the coronavirus has progressed and spread, I have had more people call me to ask how to get their estate plan done. Apparently lots of people are thinking about death now, whether the virus has directly affected them, or not. While now is a good time to ensure your estate planning documents are in place and up-to-date, I believe that it is always a good time to get your estate planning completed.
We are always at risk of becoming incapacitated or deceased — even when there is not the coronavirus seemingly taking over the world by infecting thousands of people. People die every day from different illnesses, accidents, or natural cases, so simply because a new virus is making headlines does not mean we all need to get our estate plan put in place right now. Instead, estate planning ideally should be done before a personal crisis hits. Trying to reconcile those two at this time presents unique challenges. This global sickness given much attention by the media has put estate planning to the forefront for many people.
Estate Planning Is Necessary, But Does Take Time
Estate planning is often misunderstood. Some people think that estate planning is something that can be accomplished simply and easily, without taking any time. I suppose that people think that estate planning can be just about filling in a couple of forms, and being on your way, but that is not how I believe you should correctly approach estate planning. You want to approach estate planning thoughtfully, considering and discussing different aspects of your life and what you want to have happen with your assets when you pass away. Creating an estate plan to reflect your wishes and your life means we need to meet and take the time to discuss your wishes, not just slap together some documents.
Estate planning is not just about protecting your money from unnecessary taxes. Estate planning is more than keeping your money in your family and keeping it from predators, lawsuits, creditors, or divorcing spouses.
Estate planning is about protecting your children. Ensuring you have named guardians for them in a Will and planned for the children’s financial well-being. It is about ensuring they are raised by the people that you want and in the way that you want.
You need to meet and discuss your wishes and desires with your estate planning attorney. It is always tough to find time to do this, even without a virus that could spread and restrictions on activity because of that virus. I have been meeting with clients ever since the virus showed up in the United States. I meet with clients who are OK with meeting, but have had clients who cancel appointments until after the threat has subsided.
Either approach is fine. I also had a client who could not wait for me to meet back up with them to get their documents signed, so they got their own notary and signed everything without me. Since I can only be in one place at a time, I understood why the person wanted to act quickly. I want to help you with your estate plan, virus threat or none, but I can only work as fast as I can to make that happen for you, and I cannot be in two places at once, despite my best efforts to travel as fast as allowed in science fiction, using a teleporting device like the transporters on Star Trek.
If You Are Prepared, You Shall Not Fear
I hope you and your family stay healthy and safe during this viral outbreak, but the reality is that everyone dies. Whether expected, or unexpected, death is the only way out of life, and we have no idea of when our time may be up. Whether the current COVID-19 virus takes you, or some other method leads to your demise, if you have your estate plan in place, you know what will happen to your assets, your family, and you can know how to take care of them, even when you are gone.
As I have mentioned, I am still meeting with people in individual meetings throughout the virus outbreak, and I plan to do so until I am prohibited from doing so by some level of government, if it comes to that. Although the government might disagree, I think that estate planning is an essential service. Perhaps I am a fool for thinking that I can provide estate planning services to those in need, but this is not the first time I have braved disease to help people.
While serving as a missionary for my church in my early 20s, I was called upon to minister to the child of someone I knew. The child had been imprisoned, and released from prison early since he had contracted tuberculosis. As a 20 year old who felt invincible, I went to see him in the tuberculosis hospital and minister to him. His parents appreciated the effort, and were glad I had gone to see him, even though he died only a few weeks later from the disease. I did not contract tuberculosis from my contact with him, but since I was exposed to the disease, I now react to the tuberculosis skin test with a positive reaction for the disease. Apparently I have developed an immune response to the disease, even though I do not have tuberculosis. I do have a life-long reminder of this event, and I am more cautious as an older adult than I was in my early 20s.
I am Here and Ready to Help You With Estate Planning, Virus or No Virus
I am still willing to come and meet with you for the duration of the virus outbreak. That will change if I become sick, as I don’t want to infect anyone and I don’t want to spread the disease. As my friends have told me: Be vigilant. Be prepared. Be safe. But, don’t panic. Remember, I am a mobile attorney, so I will come see you! And I promise to keep our meetings small, so that we can all stay safe.
We’re here to help.
Michael Bailey can meet at any of our 15 office locations in Colorado!