ROCKFORD — Those thinking about drawing up a will typically do so when they start a family, after the death of a loved one, or when they experience a health scare.
Over the past month or so, the coronavirus pandemic has emerged as the top reason for questions about wills, and some lawyers are being bombarded with calls.
"You can't turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without seeing those who have passed away or contracted the virus," said Michael Crosby, owner of The Crosby Law Firm. "It is a reminder for how vulnerable we are."
COVID-19, the potentially deadly respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, is causing "phones to ring off the hook" at the law firm, Crosby said.
Attorney Laird Lambert, whose law firm concentrates mostly on wills and trusts, said clients are thinking more about their own mortality, and he is getting calls from those who want to update or change legal documents.
"I think it's driven primarily by not wanting to leave a mess" for those who survive, Lambert said. He said he expects to get many more calls in coming months "once things return to normal."
Just one in three American adults has a will, according to a 2020 estate planning study from Caring.com, down 25% from 2017.
Crosby said callers want to know about power of attorney, a legal document that gives one individual authority to act for another in financial matters or for medical care. His firm advises that such a document be included in an "advance care plan" package of documents that include naming the person who will make health care decisions on your behalf as well as how your property will be distributed after your death. Costs can range from $150 for a single document to $5,000 for a package of documents, he said.
Even so, Marcia Mueller, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, advises against going online to get a will prepared. "The will for $100 probably would not be a quality product," she said.
She said the pandemic keeping most everyone at home potentially has helped make one thing easier for those signing wills in Illinois, though. Gov. JB Pritzker has authorized remote notarizations that allow parties to sign and witness the signing process online through interactive video apps such as Zoom, rather than having to appear in person in an attorney's office. But there is some concern over whether the governor had the authority to make the change.
Not everyone needs a will, but most would be wise to have one, Mueller said. Even a single person in his or her 20s who has a job, a small 401(k) account and a bit of savings might want to think about getting a will, she said. If there isn't one, the state would divide that person's assets among his or her parents and siblings.
"Maybe you don't want your parents or siblings" to benefit, she said. "Maybe you want your boyfriend or girlfriend to benefit."
Georgette Braun: email@example.com; @GeorgetteBraun