Aging In Michigan - April 2020

COVID Triggers New Era for Estate Planning

Changing Times. This photo of a computer screen shows CT Attorney Val KutzOtway (upper right) meeting with clients via video conference, while CT assistants Lori Diaz (bottom left) and Carey Kutz (bottom right) standby to act as “remote” witnesses to the signing of an estate plan. Out of necessity, the COVID Crisis triggered changes in the way elder law and estate planning attorneys get things done. Expect those changes to stick around even after the crisis is over.

The COVID Crisis has reminded all of us that it’s good to be prepared. For many people that means having an estate plan in place.

An estate plan for some means a simple will and power of attorney, for others the plan could be more involved. Whatever the plan, because of the crisis, people are thinking about these topics and the attorneys at Chalgian and Tripp are getting plenty of calls from old and new clients alike.

Preparing estate plans for clients during this crisis has been anything but business as usual. Whether it’s the initial meeting at which the decisions are made, getting the draft documents to the client, or arranging to have those documents signed and witnessed, the “usual” way of doing things just wasn’t cutting it. Clients and lawyers alike wanted to stay safe, to say nothing of the fact that we were all ordered to stay out of the office and in our homes.

Estate planners got some help from the Governor when she issued a temporary order allowing documents that usually require in-person witnessing, to be witnessed and notarized via “remote” audio-video computer conferencing programs.” “Although it was nice to get the Governor’s permission to do these things, by the time her order was issued, most estate planning lawyers were already using these procedures,” explains Attorney Doug Chalgian. “It wasn’t like there were a lot of other options.”

The Genie Escapes

“Because we have so many offices, we’ve had this technology around for a long time,” said Attorney Chalgian. “This crisis forced us to start using it much more effectively. Turns out, it works pretty well, saves time, and many clients like it. In other words, now that the genie is out of the bottle, it’s probably safe to say that it isn’t going to go back in.”

“Look, I’m old school,” Chalgian continued. “I still plan to meet with clients in my office, to close the door and talk to them across my desk about their very personal matters. Talking into a computer screen doesn’t feel nearly the same to me, and I don’t think it feels the same for some of our older clients. But that’s not how young people see it. Watching our younger lawyers take to this development has been eye-opening. They’re ready for this technological change. In the end, I guess I’m just like every generation before me. I think things have to be a certain way. And like all of those generations, I guess I’m wrong too.”

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