In the last few weeks of the COVID-19 Pandemic, our friends, family and clients alike have reached out with a set of common questions. Let’s work through a few of those here. From “we’ve been putting taking care of our estate planning off forever and suddenly it feels really important to do — can we?” to “can I do this myself at home?”
You can expect many lawyers to be working during the crisis — including those of us at Cayce & Grove. That said, the legal landscape is a little less traditional right now, as we work to provide this essential service with innovative delivery aimed to keep all of us safe and well. Here are several of the questions we have been fielding on repeat:
We know we need to do our planning — but we’ve put it off. Now it feels really important, can we start the process now? In short, yes. A few caveats: Be certain you identify a firm that has a long, established history of practicing estate planning to ensure that you are working with counsel that is well-versed in the field. It is not advised to just “write something up” yourself. Find an attorney you connect with and feel comfortable working with.
We want to stay home, but feel this is really important — what can we do? Many firms, ours included, are working diligently to accommodate clients while observing the Governor’s Order to Stay Home + Stay Safe. This means that our meetings and work together are a little less formal, rather than meeting in person we meet on the phone or via Zoom conference. For signings, we are innovating and finding methods that work for all while ensuring the legal requirements are strictly observed and met.
Can I just write something out myself or find something online? We always advise against “using a form” from online for several reasons; chief among those (1) they often are not intended for Washington state, (2) you don’t know what you don’t know and if there are oversights in the document it will cause problems down the road, (3) executing valid estate planning documents requires varied combinations of properly qualified witnesses under Washington law and/or a Notary, failure to have properly executed documents provides a false sense of security but worse opens the opportunity for expensive complications once it’s too late to fix them. There are online legal services that are not state-specific or overlook important provisions that protect the family. We recommend reading their “disclaimer” before proceeding, we often see these kits later on causing problems due to execution errors, drafting oversights or poor planning.
What do we need to get in place? Each estate plan is a individual reflection of needs, loved ones and priorities of the client. This is one of the reasons why working with counsel is important. As the lawyer listens to you, they are able to mentally “click through” various elements or planning methods that are best for you.
Generally speaking, however, many clients need:
1. Will: This document plans for where your assets go upon your passing, who is in charge of making that happen and how to protect those assets. This may include planning that takes into account net worth, or often how to protect the assets if intended for minor children. The Will also makes clear your preferences for guardianship of minors in the event both parents have passed.
2. Durable Power of Attorney (Financial + Medical): This document appoints who is responsible for “standing in your shoes” in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself. A Durable Power of Attorney should address medical powers and financial powers.
3. Advanced Health Care Directive: This document tells your family and the medical team how to handle decisions in the event of an irreversible coma, persistent vegetative state. This document can guide family, preventing in-fighting and protecting all from end of life decision making conflict.
4. Disposition of Remains: This document makes clear your preferences for burial, cremation, composting or aquamation (Alkaline hydrolysis).
5. Community Property Agreement: Specifically used for clients that are married, a CPA can sometimes ease the transfer of certain assets from the first spouse to die to the second, without the need for probate depending on various factors.
How long will the process take? This depends on your needs and the current work load — right now we are working hard to meet the needs of our clients, and sometimes this requires prioritizing certain clients to the front of the line such as physicians or first responders. For our clients who are on the front lines of this pandemic with a greater level of risk, we are doing our best to get the work done in a matter of days. For clients who are comfortable waiting, we are able to meet their needs from start to finish in about two to three weeks.
How much does an estate plan cost? At the risk of sounding like typical lawyers … it depends. Often, our estate plans are done on the flat fee at a rate dictated by the complication of the client’s specific plan and needs. Sometimes, planning is done hourly when more complex. We are happy to touch base with you via phone and give a price range that reflects your specific needs and wants.
We hope that this has provided some basic information for you — we are here and happy to help if you have questions. You can call 425-255-0603 ext. 4 to schedule or leave a message, or go to our Getting In Touch page to send an e-mail.