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Estate Planning In The Age Of Coronavirus

Charles Lowenhaupt and Carolyn Ohlsen, April 3, 2020

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The silver lining in this crisis is the productive estate planning discussions we’re having with clients about their intentions for their children and grandchildren. 

A figure who has commented several times in these pages is Charles Lowenhaupt, chairman and partner at Lowenhaupt & Chasnoff. He writes here, along with Carolyn Ohlsen, managing partner, about the sensitive estate planning matters that are particularly acute at this time of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Lowenhaupt & Chasnoff, LLC is a law firm founded in 1908 that develops wealth strategies and provides counseling to individuals and families of significant wealth. The editors are pleased to share these views; the usual editorial disclaimers apply to views from outside contributors. Email tom.burroughes@wealthbriefing.com and jackie.bennion@clearviewpublishing.com

Nothing is more certain than death and taxes. In this time of coronavirus, maybe taxes are not so inevitable or so immediate. Yet, death and mortality are never far from the minds of many of us.  And for those who think about family and wealth, the anxiety about one’s own death is heightened by the prospect of this new, hidden disease. Before the illness even hits, it separates family members sheltering in place and further isolates patients.

All of this leaves many contemplating their estate plans, which bring together death, family, legacy and taxes, as well as a whole host of emotions and considerations. Among those are fear of isolation, fear of illness, fear of death, and concern for legacy. 

What is strangely different about this crisis is that in our firm’s more than 100-year history of helping wealth holders plan their estates, we have never found ourselves constrained to telephone conversations for all client interaction. Social distancing and sheltering in place make estate planning more difficult than ever. How does one sensitively deal with the emotions and fears that come with talking about death if one is separated by the phone or Internet? What kind of reassurance and comfort can one achieve virtually? How are documents to be completed and executed?  Where are the two witnesses and the notary needed to finalize the documents? 

Freedom from wealth
Sheltering in place is also an extraordinary restriction on a wealth holder’s freedom. Two months ago, people who could drop in on Paris for a weekend or go to Hong Kong to look at an investment cannot now go out to dinner at a neighborhood restaurant. Now the question is: “Where shall I have my dinner tonight? My kitchen or my bedroom?” Isolation makes us value freedom of movement more than ever.

Right now, a wealth holder needs to recognize that their sense of imprisonment is fundamental.  What wealth is for (and cannot always provide) is freedom. How can your estate plan ensure as much freedom for your children and grandchildren as possible? This is what we call Freedom from Wealth or the ability of an individual to be all he or she can be. As we endure this current misery, we can focus on what we want for future generations, even if we cannot have it now for ourselves. Thus, now is the time to review your wills and trusts. Timing is important.




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