Every COVID-19 day we seem to learn a new phrase. Not so long ago we discovered “social distancing”, and this week it is “essential services”. The list of services and businesses that we can’t do without varies by province, but most include financial and professional services, including lawyers. Wills are an essential service and the demand for them is growing.
By pointing this out I don’t mean to be alarmist or sensational, only practical and humane. As every estate planning professional knows, the demand for wills spikes around big events. These can be personal events – “we’re going on vacation” or “we have a new child” – or world events, such as 911. Now we are seeing medical professionals who are writing or updating their wills. They want to their affairs in order, just in case.
When facing the unknown we crave order and clarity. An updated will provides both.
Thinking of wills as an essential service means being sensitive to the mindset and needs of the testator. At this moment, it is easy to overlook a topic like estate planning. It seems morbid in a pandemic, and, really, there are so many other crucial issues to address, including the economic and social crises.
Especially for professionals in fields like wealth management, avoidance of the topic is unhelpful to clients. Be open to clients’ needs, which may not be well articulated in a moment of stress. Be supportive and ready to respond with immediate referrals to a lawyer or estate planning professional.
Some wills drafted at this moment will be by individuals infected with COVID-19, some in death bed situations. Taking instructions remotely to prevent infection will be a reality. Electronic instructions will be a professional challenge to the drafting lawyer, which the Law Society of Upper Canada has addressed with some initial statements. We’re entering uncharted territory.
My experience with COVID-19 so far indicates there may be an increase in estate donations to registered charities. A number of charities, such as CanadaHelps.org, are seeing a dramatic increase in current donations. Others observers are predicting a high failure rate among charities, as so many lack financial reserves and are losing core earned revenue. A crisis of the commons inspires altruism.
Most wills drafted under the cloud of COVID-19 will not be used in the foreseeable future. Readiness, however, is all. To my fellow estate and philanthropic professionals who read this blog, we have a role to play in this crisis that is both professional and deeply human. Wills are an essential service.