More people making wills

Published 5:00 pm Friday, August 21, 2020

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With the uncertainty in this pandemic, many people are considering making wills for the first time, and local attorneys who deal with wills say they have seen the trend.

COVID-19 started in China and worked its way through Europe before gaining traction in America. With death tolls rising all around the world, people began making preparations for the worst.

“Early on there was a great deal of panic with an uptick in fear and planning in March and April,” said Timothy Palmer, attorney at law and certified public accountant at Palmer Elder Law Solutions. “This pandemic has caused more people to realize their mortality.”

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Palmer stated that people were watching what was happening in China and Europe and were terrified it would happen here. Some were willing to pay extra to have theirs done faster in fear that they would die in the coming weeks.

“The initial fear has seemed to pass as numbers of clients have leveled out,” said Palmer. “We also have not seen a notable number of deaths — since we are in that business, too.”

Fred Taylor, an attorney at Bush and Taylor, P.C., saw a similar pattern. Like Palmer, he noted that it was not just the essential employees.

“We haven’t seen a difference between essential employees and everyone else,” said Taylor. “Especially in March when the shutdown occurred, and there was even more uncertainty, we had a lot of people come in for power of attorneys. They were scared that they would be quarantined or hospitalized and unable to take care of bills and other necessities.”

Even though the making of wills seems to be leveling out, Taylor is interested to see if levels do rise again once schools open back up. Teachers and parents may look for advice and services as Virginia moves forward.

Frank Rawls at Ferguson Rawls & Raines P.C., who also saw no correlation between job and making a will, noted that even as the initial uptick was leveling out, his firm is still busier than before COVID-19.

“We’ve had many people that have been concerned with coming in to talk to us,” said Rawls. “We have consulted with them over the phone, Zoom and Facetime. We try to still keep it face to face by using video, to make it easier. We’ve also had people who wanted to do signings in their car.”

Even when a global pandemic is not the primary source of conversation, a will is something everyone needs.

“Few things are certain in life, but death is way, way up there,” said Palmer.

According to Palmer, in Virginia, when someone dies, all assets do not immediately go to the state. The state decides who everything goes to, and it may not be in the way the deceased would have wanted. However, a will can give the person control over who gets their assets.

“It puts you in the decision-making position of managing your affairs,” said Taylor. “No one knows when it is their time, and it is important to make sure what you worked hard for and earned goes to the person or organization you want.”

Along with a will, another essential thing to have is a power of attorney. According to Palmer, right behind the likelihood of dying is the possibility of being incapacitated. Many people can experience strokes or car accidents that make them unable to make decisions.

“A medical directive can ensure the right person is in place,” said Palmer. “Not having one can lead to a court case that is expensive and time-consuming. Estate planning without the state is always the better option.”