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Estate planning, health proxies spike amid pandemic 

There is perhaps nothing like a pandemic to move people to seriously contemplate the future wellbeing of their families.

While the global response to the rapidly-moving novel coronavirus has crippled financial markets around the world, some segments of the economy have seen an uptick in activity.

Estate attorneys and financial advisors say they have fielded a flurry of inquiries from people looking to draft or update wills, review beneficiary designations, appoint a health care proxy, and otherwise get their affairs in order in preparation for the worst.

“We’ve probably had a half-dozen or so calls from people specifically saying they’re concerned that their documents aren’t up to date or that they don’t know if everything is in place,” said Andy Randisi, whose Pittsford firm, Weinstein and Randisi, specializes in estate planning. “I expect it to get far more significant in the coming weeks.”

Bob Brenna, of the Brenna Boyce law firm in Rochester, said the uptick at his business began a month ago. “There seems to be a greater awareness of people wanting to make plans now just in case,” Brenna said.

Many firms with estate law practices have posted messages on their websites specific to COVID-19, particularly those addressing face-to-face meetings and the signing of crucial legal documents in line with social distancing guidelines.

Visitors to the website for the Law Office of Michael Robinson, an estate planning firm in Pittsford, are now greeted with a video in which Robinson outlines how his firm is conducting business differently but remains open and available to clients.

“I know these are uncertain times and, for some, they’re scary times,” Robinson says in the video. “But I want to reassure you we remain here for you and your family.”

Estate planning can be complex even when there is ample time to prepare. One way the pandemic has upended the process, estate lawyers say, is in limiting in-person interaction between lawyers, clients, and notaries, who are required to witness the signing of documents.

“People right now don’t want to have face-to-face meetings, yet we have to have face-to-face meetings to sign documents and people are not canceling those appointments,” said Kristin Jonsson, whose Penfield firm, Pellittiere and Jonsson, has also posted a message detailing safety precautions it is taking.

“I would not say that there has been an increase in business,” Jonsson said, “but people that were already in the process or following up are saying, ‘Hey can we get this done?’”

Estate planning lawyers recommend that everyone have at least the basic estate-planning trifecta in place: A will, a power of attorney, and a health care proxy.

These documents, respectively, allow for the distribution of assets according to your wishes, for someone to make financial decisions on your behalf in case you are incapacitated, and someone to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

Having those documents prepared could avoid having the courts appoint a guardian over minor children or oversee the distribution of property.

“The will is important,” Jonsson said. “But in a crisis like this what’s most important is that you take care of yourself while you’re alive, and that’s where the health proxy and power of attorney come in.”

David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.

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