July 21, 2024
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Nesting During COVID-19: Clean Your Closets and Do Your Estate Planning

Write and execute your last wills and testaments, powers of attorney and health care proxies.

COVID-19 and the resulting social distancing and self-quarantining have caused health, child, and financial issues prompting palpable anxiety, fear and concern. It has also brought nuclear families closer, resulting in a multitude of activities to make time spent at home as active and as meaningful as possible, including online learning, movie marathons and good old-fashioned board games. There are multitudes of online workshops, including continuing legal education courses, giving direction during these trying times, when personal contact is recommended and sometimes demanded.

The streets of my leafy suburb are lined with folded cardboard boxes and bags of trash. It would seem that in these strange times people have been “nesting,” the term used to describe cleaning and organizing before the birth of a child. Social distancing has resulted in overwhelming and unexpected hours at home. Closets not recently opened, basements rarely entered and crawl spaces never explored have become mini travel destinations for those who find themselves getting to know every inch of the houses they work so hard to pay for and maintain, but never get to appreciate enough.

Given the medically based impetus for this current societal and home-based lifestyle, what better time to deal with estate planning? As a trusts and estates practitioner, I often get phone calls around the new year when people make resolutions to get their affairs in order. Similarly, when tragedy strikes, such as the death of a celebrity (Kobe Bryant, for example) people realize the fragility of life. So too, as each day brings more closures and more quarantines, the need for estate planning becomes more real.

At a minimum every adult needs a last will and testament, power of attorney and health care proxy. The last will and testament, drafted by an attorney, will direct the disposition of your assets and the guardianship of your children in the event you die. In the event you die without a last will and testament, the state intestate laws dictate the beneficiaries of your assets and a judge will determine who gets custody of your minor children. A trustee may also be appointed under one’s will to manage the inheritance of a minor child.

A power of attorney authorizes an agent to stand in your place regarding financial matters in the event you are unable to act. Such activities include filing taxes, banking, purchasing and selling real estate and filing for governmental benefits. A health care proxy is used when you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. As such, it is imperative that your wishes are known to your appointed agent in the event you cannot speak for yourself. Other concerns for estate planning include checking beneficiary designations, purchasing life insurance and speaking with the elders in your family about their estate planning.

Many attorneys are now working from home and have the ability to “meet” with clients telephonically or via internet. For estate planning, this practice works very well. Zoom, FaceTime and conference calls are all good mechanisms for discussing matters pertaining to a last will, power of attorney and health care proxy. In most states, however, the document signing must be in person before a notary and witnesses. Nonetheless there should be little impediment to doing the legwork for estate planning: discussing the documents, contemplating appointments and finally drafting and reviewing. In these unique times when individuals may have more flexibility or, perhaps, time in terms of dealing with their own matters, perhaps we can move estate planning up a few pegs on life’s to-do list. Let us take advantage of these nesting times by not only physically cleaning and organizing our households, but mentally and legally preparing for our futures, in good health and safety.


Cori A. Robinson is a solo practitioner having founded Cori A. Robinson PLLC, a New York and New Jersey law firm, in 2017. For more than a decade Robinson has focused her law practice on trusts and estates and elder law including estate and Medicaid planning, probate and administration, estate litigation, and guardianships. She can be reached at [email protected].

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