How Has COVID-19 Has Affected Estate Planning?
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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.