The articles from The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. are focusing on
the areas of Family Law and Estate Law, and range of other legal areas.

How Has COVID-19 Has Affected Estate Planning?

estate planning attorney on video call
How COVID-19 Impacted Estate Planning

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every facet of daily life over the last two years, including the way many individuals approach estate planning. From the rise of electronic Wills to earlier planning, here are some estate planning changes that have been influenced by the pandemic and its consequences.

Rise of electronic Wills and virtual Will signing

An electronic Will (or e-Will) is a will created, signed, and stored electronically in a digital format. An electronic Will covers everything a traditional Will does.

Every state has different laws when it comes to electronic Wills. In 2021, Virginia introduced and passed legislation that allowed a testator to execute a Will by electronic means, including video conferencing. They have increasingly been used to accommodate society’s rising digital sensibilities, even before the pandemic.

The urgency for virtual Will execution increased in 2020 as people began to worry about potential health consequences if they contracted COVID-19. Individuals wanted to make sure their estate was in order should something happen to them but may not have felt they could safely prepare a Will in-person with an attorney.

Even as pandemic restrictions have eased, virtual Will execution remains a popular and convenient option for individuals working on their estate plans.

An increase in Millennial Will-writing

The volatility of the pandemic caused millennials to be more introspective and embrace estate planning. The percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds with Wills jumped from 16.4% in 2020 to 27% in 2021, with the percentage expected to grow in 2022.

Millennials cited the COVID-19 pandemic as their reason for wanting to get their affairs in order. In addition to being more aware of their own physical well-being, they were also starting to plan for the future as well. Many seriously considered buying real estate and having children with their partners.

Writing a Will allows millennials to distribute their assets and specify any final arrangements they want carried out. Not only were millennials prioritizing their estate planning, within those plans they also tended to give back. According to a Trust & Will survey, 7% of millennials surveyed intend to give some assets to a charity and 26% opted to have their organs donated. These forward-thinking final requests were inspired by the anxiety brought on by COVID-19 and the subsequent summer of civil unrest.

Probate court operational changes

Probate courts, which handle the property and debts of the deceased, also saw operational changes brought on by the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, strict lockdown orders delayed hearings for the general safety of the public. Courts then began scheduling hearings online via remote services, and some courts set up separate remote stations to safely cover the technological aspects of the hearings. As the state of the pandemic continues to fluctuate, probate courts are embracing a hybrid system provide accessibility to all patrons.

Probate courts also saw an unprecedented uptick in cases as many people who died from COVID-19 did not have a Will. The courts became overwhelmed as people attended hearings to settle their family’s estates. The importance of estate planning became clear as families were burdened with legal fees to untangle their loved one’s assets in an already stressed system.

Gender-based issues

The coronavirus pandemic caused what some referred to as a “she-cession,” as COVID-19 has disproportionately affected women. During the pandemic, women were more likely to lose their jobs and struggle to find work than men. Additionally, with entire families staying at home, more women assumed the responsibility of caring for their children and helping with their education than their male counterparts.

Women who were negatively impacted by job losses, decreased salary, and prioritized education made changes to their estate plan to reflect their new financial situation. According to a TD Wealth survey, 89% of estate planners said they made changes to their female clients’ estate plans because of the pandemic. These changes included updating guardianship and benefactor designations and powers of attorney, redrafting their current Will, and writing post-mortem letters.

These new changes can make navigating estate planning difficult. If you’re in the Commonwealth of Virginia and looking to write your first Will or make changes to your current Will, contact The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor today.

Can I Include NFTs in My Will?

nfts in willThe rise in cryptocurrency has signaled a rise in non-fungible token (NFT) prominence as well. As NFTs gain traction, many who have purchased them wonder whether they can pass them on to their heirs.

Cryptoassets are unique assets that can be complicated to account for when it comes to estate planning. If you’re wondering how to leave these assets to beneficiaries, here’s a brief overview of what you need to know about including NFTs in your Will.

What is an NFT?

Non-fungible tokens are units of data stored on the Ethereum blockchain. They are not the same as blockchain cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. NFTs represents ownership of a unique item. Such items include assets like art, collectibles, a song file, and even real estate. For instance, an NFT can tokenize assets that range from a GIF to a deed to a car.

An NFT can only have one owner at a time, and this ownership is managed through the unique ID and metadata that no other token can replicate. When you buy an NFT, you’re purchasing the code that represents an image. In other words, you’re buying the property rights to the asset, not the asset itself.

Can I include NFTs in my Will?

NFTs are valuable and unique assets, so if you own one, you’ll want to include it in your Will to ensure your heirs gain ownership of them. If you don’t specify how you want to distribute your NFTs, as with other cryptoassets, the probate court or IRS will decide whether it will be liquidated or sold off.

How to include NFTs in your Will or Trust

While you can include NFTs in your Will or Trust plan, it’s not as simple as “handing over” a physical asset. Like all digital assets, it’s important to develop and include a specific plan for leaving your NFTs to a beneficiary.

Since NFTs can only be accessed by a password or personal key, you need to make sure your executor can deliver this information to your beneficiary and specify in your Will or Trust how they can access it.  Additionally, in your Will or Trust, explicitly state the plan for exactly how and when your beneficiaries should receive this password after you’ve passed, or have a Will or Trust indicate your intention to provide a separate, private document that can be found with your Will or Trust which lays out the specifics.

Talking to your estate planning attorney about digital assets like NFTs

Many laws surrounding NFTs and cryptoassets are still in the works, so it’s important to retain the services of an attorney who stays up to date with the latest estate planning laws and their tax implications.

To help your lawyer calculate your NFTs values, document the purchase price of each NFT in cryptocurrency and their fair market values when you purchased each of them. Transferring this password can be a complicated process and could potentially violate federal cybersecurity laws if it is not clear that your appointed representative has the authority to use your NFTs password on your estate’s behalf.

When planning an estate with NFTs, legal representatives should create a memo or letter that specifically details the type, location, and means of access to your digital NFTs. Password and PINs should be stored separately, though the memo/letter should indicate where they can be found.

To make sure your executor has the authority they need, include an express grant of permission in your Will so they can access your crypto exchange accounts. Many states, including Virginia, have adopted digital assets acts, and a properly drafted estate plan should include provisions related to those laws. Additionally, be sure to research and select the right cryptoasset exchange platform to store your NFTs, as this can further complicate the inheritance process for your beneficiaries.

Including digital assets in your Will can be complex. Luckily for Virginians, The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., can help guide you. Contact us today for a free consultation about your estate planning needs.

New Year, New Will: How to Write a Will in 2022

older woman writing a will with attorney
How to Write a Will |

With all the complexities involved in writing your Will, it can be difficult to know why, when, and how to tackle such an important task. While you should always consider consulting and working together with an experienced estate planning attorney to guide you through the process, it’s often a good idea to educate yourself before you get started. Here’s some useful information about why and how to write a Last Will and Testament (or a Will, for short) in 2022.

Why write a Will?

Having a Last Will and Testament is incredibly important, as it details what you want done with your estate, possessions, and assets after your death. Despite its value and purpose, the majority of adults in the U.S. — 54 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll — do not have a Will. This can create numerous problems for their loved ones, as it complicates the legal process surrounding their estate after their death.

Dying without a Will in Virginia, for example, means your estate possessions will go through the state’s intestacy laws. If this occurs, your assets may get distributed against your wishes and your loved ones may not get what they are entitled to.

A Will legally protects your loved ones and your assets by clearly stating how you would like your possessions distributed after your death. Even if you think you don’t have many assets, you should still create a Will so that the proceedings after your death are not complicated and your wishes are fulfilled.

When to write a Will

As the saying goes, there is no time like the present. A person should write their Will once they’ve accumulated any amount of assets. Essentially, if you have a particular preference as to where, or to whom, your accumulated assets should be given once you die, you should write a Will.

It’s also important to remember that once you have created a Will, it should be regularly reviewed and updated. This is especially true during major life changes, such as getting married, having children, buying a house, or starting a business. Some experts even recommend that a Will should be updated or reviewed every five years.

What type of Will is best?

There are four main types of Wills — simple, testamentary trust, joint, and living — a person can write, depending on their situation:

A so-called Simple Will is the most common type, as it dictates who will receive your assets and names a guardian for your minor children in the event of your passing.

A Will with testamentary trust provisions places your assets in a trust, which is controlled and managed by a designated trustee. This type of Will is used for beneficiaries who may be minors or if you elect to place specific conditions on inheritances and how they are distributed. It is important to understand that funding a trust for named beneficiary through a Will is not often ideal, and it may be prudent to discuss whether another document, called a Revocable Living Trust, may be better suited to protecting your assets and the beneficiaries you wish to leave them to.

A Joint Will is written by two or more people and acts as a separate Will for each party. These are typically created for spouses or domestic partners who have the same terms in their Will. Joint Wills, however, are highly disfavored and no longer commonly used, because the survivor spouse or domestic partner cannot change the terms of a joint will after the death of one of the writers.

A Living Will is not a Will in the sense of death; rather, this document is used during your lifetime to clearly identifies the end-of-life medical treatments you want — or do not want — to receive in the event you become incapacitated and cannot make autonomous decisions about your final medical care needs if you become terminally ill or are in an irreversible coma. The Living Will names someone to make decisions on your behalf under those circumstances.

How to write a Will

When deciding the terms you want written into a Will, there are certain steps you should take with an experienced estate planning attorney in order to ensure that it is done properly. This is not the time to “DIY” — with a document as important as a Will, it’s essential to have an attorney familiar with federal and state tax law as well as local estate planning statutes review your planned provisions with you and make sure the document is properly drafted.

Once you’ve found the right attorney, you will work through the following stages of drafting your Will with them:

  1. Taking stock of all your assets and debts
  2. Deciding on beneficiaries for each of your assets that will pass through the Will
  3. Choosing an executor for your Will
  4. Naming a guardian for your minor children in your Will (if applicable)
  5. Signing the Will in the presence of two competent witnesses and a notary public
  6. Reviewing and updating your Will every five years

Writing a Will can be stressful and complex. Luckily for Virginians, The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C., can help guide you. Contact us today for a free consultation.