Originally published in The Oklahoman by Paula Burkes.
Dustin Davis is a founding partner and attorney with the Edmond-based firm of Evans & Davis.
Should readers be worried about their estate planning during the COVID-19 crisis?
Oklahomans should always be concerned about their estate planning. Whether you pass away from an illness caused by the current pandemic or cancer at the age of 98, it’s not a matter of “if” you’re going to die, but rather “when.” Feeling a sense of urgency to complete a will or a trust is a positive thing, but it should not be done in an emergency situation except when there are extenuating circumstances that usually involve a terminal medical diagnosis.
Can people complete their estate planning during the COVID-19 crisis?
Yes. Our firm, which was formed in 2002, always sees an uptick in client calls or initial estate planning meetings when there are national events, economic changes or crises that cause us to wonder how we can be more prepared. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has been no different. Over the past five years, we have invested a great deal of capital into secure infrastructures that allow us to initiate the estate planning process remotely. From simple telephone conferences to video conferences involving Zoom, Teams and Facetime, there has certainly been an uptick in virtual client meetings. In a normal week, 90% of our meetings are in person. Last week, we maintained normal revenue, but only 5% of our meetings were in person.
Are you seeing an increase in healthcare providers completing their estate planning?
Calls from those on the front lines such as doctors and nurses have increased substantially over the past three weeks as they seek to create or update their healthcare powers of attorneys, advance directives, HIPAA authorizations, and other necessary documents to make sure they are protected as they put themselves in harm’s way to treat and protect the general public.
Have most Oklahoman’s completed their estate plans? According to a recent survey completed by www.caring.com, fewer than 40% of Americans have current or valid estate plans in place. As Oklahomans have had more downtime at home and less travel, there has been a substantial increase in calls and inquiries to start the process. The process can all be done online — from completing the Estate Planning Intake Form, to the initial meeting with an attorney to discuss their situation, to meeting with business partners to discuss business succession planning via web conferences, to reviewing the encrypted documents online. Additionally, various states, including Oklahoma, have passed laws that allow for online/remote notarization of documents. We anticipate this is just the beginning and once the COVID-19 Pandemic has passed, many of these new practices will remain in place if not flourish as the legal and financial industries embrace the new normal of remote and virtual meetings, consultations and signings.