Our phones started ringing off the hook early in the pandemic,” says my colleague, Moira Martin. C.J. Griffith adds, “We started ‘drive-through signings’ in the parking circle around our building.”

Are these folks real estate agents? Do they work at home repair shops? Nah. They’re estate planners.

Covid-19 is by far the most disruptive force in the modern economy, whose impacts will linger for years. In the beginning it was shoppers’ desperate search for toilet paper and KN95 masks, but then that gave way to bidding wars for suburban and vacation homes, soaring gas prices, semiconductor shortages in the auto industry, and lines of container ships outside our harbors. Crazy.

Overlooked amid the frenzy was the interesting byproduct of staying home—free time. My Twitter feed is loaded with proud new bread bakers, home DIY projects—as well as countless pix of new pets, new kids, old kids and other family I didn’t know they had. (The efforts of my new woodworking hobby are pictured there, too.) Our time since the pandemic started has been invested in many things personal and meaningful. So it’s not much of a surprise that many folks finally got after those pesky planning needs—creating a will or completing an estate plan. They were motivated not only by a public health crisis but—too often—by the illness or death of a friend or family member.

Moira Martin heads up Essex Trust in the bucolic hamlet of Essex, Conn., often named one of America’s best small towns. She says, “Good estate plans help you prepare for the worst, whether a sudden illness or a prolonged period of incapacity. But the pandemic and its continuing fallout have made people with wealth reconsider many of their most important planning decisions, as well as the fit of their advisors and executors in the event of their incapacity or death. And for the procrastinators who suddenly had lots of time on their hands, the forced pandemic seclusion has been the perfect opportunity to review their plans.”

Martin’s team fielded calls from clients who had put off making tough decisions about who would help manage their affairs. Loved ones were stuck in other parts of the country under pandemic travel restrictions, unable to do anything but Zoom from afar. Those critical roles of the financial power of attorney, trustee and executor suddenly cried out for someone on the ground, nearer to the need. Trust and estate professionals can help fill gaps in an estate plan, and the pandemic revealed that a faraway relative might not be the ideal person to slot into a critical role when the time comes.

“Clients engaged in estate planning during Covid are learning that it is not enough to have wealth to get the best outcomes in the retirement years when they are less physically able,” says Tom West, a senior partner at Signature Estate & Investment Advisors in Tysons Corner, Va. “The new reality of long-term care, given the devastating impact on the senior housing and healthcare workforce, is that families will have to plan for and consider paying for access to care in addition to paying for the care itself.”

Martin agrees and adds, “Pre-pandemic, some retireds or near-retireds had vetted independent or assisted-living facilities as a possible solution to supported aging in place. By all measures, the pandemic hit eldercare facilities harder than almost any other industry, and many did an admirable job keeping their residents safe and healthy. However, some clients have soured on the idea of moving to even the poshest facilities due to what were extensive lockdowns and restrictions. Pivoting away from congregant eldercare living arrangements, they are changing their next downsizing or age-in-place plan and will need their financial plans to be adjusted as a result.”

Chuck Cumello is the CEO of Essex Financial Services, an RIA with about $3 billion of client assets. He says, “We have seen the effects of Covid as people think about their own mortality and family dynamics in a way that they hadn’t before Covid, nor really at any other time.”

Griffith, an attorney with Sullivan, Griffith & Beatty LLP in Guilford, Conn., says that people have responded to the Covid-19 crisis by educating themselves about planning issues through Google, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. “When prospective clients reached out for professional guidance, they were confident of the basics, but often wanted help sorting through some of the ‘noise’ to make sure they understood what would happen in the event of a death or prolonged period of incapacity.”

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