The coronavirus pandemic has led to a lot of calls to estate planning attorneys like Shirley Diefenbach of the Walker Lambe Firm in Durham.
"We are seeing a surge of people calling frantic that they don't have anything in place," Diefenbach said.
Her entire practice is working remotely, doing wills, estate planning and preparing end of life documents virtually with videoconferencing and even drive through signings for clients.
"In North Carolina, we do not yet have virtual signings," Diefenbach explained. "We do have legislature before the state. And so, we are hoping that once session resumes on April 28, that we will be able to get a lot in place to allow for virtual notarization as well as virtual signings and witnessing for those documents. So right now, the drive-thru is sufficient."
Diefenbach said having these legal documents in place is always important, and the pandemic is putting a lot more light on the issue for clients.
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"One is death and what's gonna happen with your assets when you pass away," she said. "And then, a will or a will and a trust will contemplate who handles the estate, where the assets goes. Also, if you have minor children. That's a place where you designate guardians for those children so that they're taken care of. But another really important aspect of estate planning is what happens if you are alive, but you can't attend to your matter."
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Diefenbach said a general durable power of attorney is important for financial matters so someone can make and handle financial issues for you but, one is also needed for healthcare matters.
"A healthcare power of attorney or someone who can make healthcare decisions for you," she said. "If you are not able to communicate those, and other really important document is a general, HIPAA authorization, which is a medical privacy waiver is needed. So, if you are in the hospital, and you want your children, your spouse to be able to call and get information about your health care they need to be listed on a HIPAA waiver."
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Diefenbach said having to face tough end-of-life questions is one reason she see clients putting off this type of planning, but her best advice is it is never too late to get the legal documents in place along with a plan.
"If you have pets, for example, and you're single, do you have a plan?" Diefenbach asked. "Have you called your neighbor, have you called a friend and said, 'listen, if something happens to me, can you go to the house and walk the dog can you take my cat?' Same thing for children. If you're a single parent, do you have a plan for the children if something happens and you can't attend to their care? It gives you a lot of relief to have the legal documents in place but also to have a plan. It's not too late. And you can do it while still at home while still social distancing."
Walker Lambe, PLLC offers free consultations and can provide services for a flat free after a consult.
Freewill.com offers free online will services.
Some other helpful resources:
The Senior Law Clinic
UNC Medical Care Advance Care Planning - also found here
Planning from National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization - more found here
Triangle attorneys see surge in wills, end-of-life documents amid COVID-19
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