March 26, 2020

Estate Planning Update

After an initial period of shock as the current crisis unfolded, many of us are now focusing on critical estate planning issues. The widespread disruption has caused confusion over many procedural issues. The following update provides guidance on how to proceed, and SSRGA remains fully available to assist you during this difficult time.

Remote Capabilities, including Remote Online Notarization: 
Before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, we already had a robust remote platform in place. All of our attorneys and staff have full remote capabilities to minimize any interruption in our ability to provide seamless, streamlined services. We will continue client meetings via multiple means – Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and telephone.

In addition, will and trust signings shall continue. Wills can be signed at your home with two independent witnesses – while we are connected electronically. Trusts also can be signed with two independent witnesses. Notaries are not required for either. When a notary is necessary, for example for a financial power of attorney, SSRGA can assist remotely. Governor Cuomo signed an executive order permitting remote notarization via videoconference, although the protocol is somewhat cumbersome. We continue to remain in touch with key legislative contacts to stay abreast of the latest and best remote execution developments.

The bottom line is this:  Now more than ever we are thinking of our health and mortality. You must make sure that your estate planning documents carry out your healthcare and testamentary wishes. That said, New York’s probate Courts are closed to anything other than emergency matters for the foreseeable future. It is now more compelling than ever for you to consider a revocable trust and make lifetime transfers to it now, to avoid probate.

Locate Copies of Estate Planning Documents, especially Health Documents:
Given the coronavirus spread within the tri-state area, make sure your health care proxy (which names a person to make medical decisions for you if you cannot do so yourself) and living will (gives guidance to your proxy as to your wishes for end of life care) are available and up to date. If you cannot locate copies of your recent health care documents, will or revocable trust, contact us and we will send them to you.

Is Your Plan Still Current?
We also can review your overall estate plan with you. Have your circumstances changed?  Have you had children since you did your planning?  Or have your children grown up and started their own families?  Has your financial situation or marital status changed considerably? Are your executors and trustees still suitable choices?

Review Beneficiary Designations:
Review your beneficiary designations – on your retirement plans, life insurance, and non-retirement assets with transfer-on-death instructions. We will help you coordinate those designations with any changes that you might want or need to make to your wills and trusts. Looking at the full picture is key.

Historically Low Interest Rates:
Starting April 1, 2020, the interest rates applicable to grantor retained annuity trusts and similar vehicles will be at unprecedented low levels. The combination of low asset values and declining interest rates makes this an ideal time for GRATs, intra-family loans, and sale and refinancing transactions.

Please contact any of us with your needs and concerns. During this difficult time know that we will always be available to discuss your estate planning needs and prepare any new documents that you require. Above all, stay healthy and treasure this time with your loved ones.

Sincerely,

Robert D. Steele, rsteele@ssrga.com
Mindy H. Stern, mstern@ssrga.com
Jarrett G. Roth, jroth@ssrga.com
Suzanne L. Thau, sthau@ssrga.com
Bruce S. Klein, bklein@ssrga.com
David B. Augenbaum, daugenbaum@ssrga.com