I wanted to personally update all past, current and future clients regarding the coronavirus impact on my office and on estate planning and probate in general.
My family and I are doing well, and I hope you are too. I know that these are challenging times, but I am confident we will all get through this together.
Office Hours and Operation
While nothing right now is business as usual for any of us, I am fortunate to be able to continue to service past, current and future clients alike. My plan over at least the next two weeks is to be at the office only as absolutely necessary, and otherwise work from home. We all have to do what we can to “flatten the curve”.
Aside from face-to-face client meetings, I am fortunate that through the leverage of technology, virtually all client work that I typically accomplish at the office I am able to instead accomplish at home. If you need to reach me, please call my office at 847-991-2250 and leave a voicemail. My voicemail is sent straight to my email, and I will return your call from home as soon as possible. Or send me an email directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I value service to my clients and will do the best I can to accommodate everyone, including consultations via phone and electronic document exchange and review.
30-Day Probate Cook County Court Closure
On March 13, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced that — aside from certain emergency matters — most court operations will close for 30 days, from March 17 through April 15. Scheduled hearings during this time-frame will be postponed for 30 days. Read the court’s announcement here.
This is truly significant and unprecedented. Personally, I have multiple court dates during this time-frame covering 9 cases. I will, of course, reach out to these clients individually. My probate practice currently includes 33 Cook County probate estates representing executors, administrators or beneficiaries. I expect the already-stressed probate court to be extremely stressed and expect the backlog to delay matters for many months to come. My understanding is that e-filing will remain available in the interim. I expect further orders and guidance to be forthcoming and will share those when available, either here or on my twitter account @JeffGottliebLaw.
I have not heard yet about closures in the collar counties, but I would expect that probably will also happen as well.
Probate Court Closure Brings Trust Planning Into Focus
The vast majority of my probate practice involves referrals to represent estates that my office did not plan. Why? Because most of my clients have estate plans built around (funded) trust planning designed, in part, to avoid probate.
While probate avoidance has always been desirable for many reasons, the current situation and court closure brings the benefit of avoiding the court system (both guardianship and probate) into acute focus. It may be two or three months before executors and administrators can be appointed for new estates. On the other hand, a designated successor trustee can be installed very quickly and seamlessly in the event of resignation, disability or death, without any court approval.
Unique Estate Plan Execution Challenges
The requirements necessary for estate planning document execution (especially wills and powers of attorney) were certainly not created with social distancing or quaratine in mind. Both wills and powers of attorney cannot be validly executed in isolation. To create a valid will in Illinois, the Will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses who must also sign the Will. There are no exceptions. Perhaps this current situation will spur the adoption of “e-wills” in the future, but as of now that option is not available. Powers of attorney for property require at least one witness plus a notary. Powers of attorney for health care require at least one witness signature. Especially for individuals in nursing homes, all of which currently forbid visitors, this is a serious problem.
Yet another benefit of trust planning is the lack of witness or notary requirement. While we do typically notarize a trust or amendment signing, it is not a statutory requirement. Most trusts themselves detail how the trust can be amended, and typically an amendment requires only a signed written instrument referring to the trust and delivered to the trustee.
Going forward, I intend to utilize twitter @JeffGottlieLaw for shorter, more frequent updates as needed. Please feel free to reach out directly to me if you need assistance, and please take care of yourselves and others.