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Mary Ann Korenic, J.D., CTFA
Chief Executive Officer
The Chicago Trust Company

It used to be a life-changing event such as marriage, birth of a child, death of a family member, or a divorce that caused people to think about their mortality and ignite the motivation needed to get their estate plans in order. Today, there is nothing like being trapped at home, extra time on your hands, and a disease on the rampage around the globe to get us all thinking that we better get our affairs in order. The pandemic has certainly affected everyone in one way or another and changed our lives indefinitely. There is a silver lining however. It has not just caused more people to think about estate planning. People are acting on it! Law firms are seeing as much as a 100% increase in the volume of estate planning clients in comparison to this time last year. It is important to note that this time of year usually creates an increase in people establishing estate plans—particularly for couples with children who were planning on flying together for fear of a simultaneous death. We simply do not have that reason this year.

Fear is definitely a motivating factor for all in wanting to get a plan in place. But the pandemic has also changed our view of the concepts involved in estate planning. Historically, clients would look to planning in contemplation of incapacity or death using phrases like “if I should die” and “if I cannot manage my affairs”. In essence, the inevitable was not quite real in their minds. Due to the pandemic and its undiscriminating nature, people have a much more realistic view of death and incapacity. They have a thoughtfulness and sincerity about the process that you would often see in someone who has just received a troubling medical diagnosis or experienced the unexpected loss of a loved one.

The pandemic has also changed the logistics and execution of estate plans—in a positive way. It used to take several meetings with an attorney, coupled with a draft review period (causing further procrastination) and an execution/signing meeting which would involve witnesses and a notary in most states. Today, both clients and attorneys have had to adapt to a “virtual” environment in an effort to provide a more efficient process for “meeting” to discuss the goals and objectives of the plan. Many states also passed legislation and/or issued executive orders addressing the services of notary publics and the remote witnessing of document signings. The guidelines are in response to social distancing recommendations linked to the coronavirus outbreak. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued such an order on March 26, 2020. The executive order recognizes the procedural changes as necessary for enabling Illinoisans to continue to make “critical personal and business decisions and finalize planning documents that often require the services of a Notary Public or a witness” while also observing social distancing guidelines.

As many people finally decide to establish an estate plan, the unfortunate downside to the pandemic is that many “insta-companies” have surfaced. These docs-in-a-box and generic downloadable/fillable forms for wills and trust may be economical to the consumer, but they could potentially spell disaster once they come into play at incapacity or death. What is saved on the front end, could end up costing your loved ones thousands on the back end. The decision to implement a plan should not be short-changed by not hiring an attorney who specializes in estate planning. Many attorneys who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic (litigators and criminal defense attorneys due to court closings), are also dabbling in estate planning to help pay their bills. Again, this could spell disaster for your loved ones and will almost guarantee a probate estate.

As we search for the silver linings during the pandemic, it is evident that the fear has caused many to address this important aspect of their lives. How you leave your legacy should be at the forefront of your thoughts. The best way to address this fear is like everything in life, hire a professional—your family will thank you!