Planning in times of uncertainty amid

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Planning in times of uncertainty amid

Sunday, May 10, 2020

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In the midst of adversity, there is always opportunity. The spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus has drastically changed life as we know it.

In response to the global pandemic, Jamaica has banned all non-essential activities, and residents have been asked to stay home. The mandated precautions are designed to slow the spread of the highly contagious disease. However, mental health experts have warned that these stringent measures may also have psychological effects. To reduce the risk of depression or other psychological effects, you can distract yourself by reviewing your estate documents and making plans for your future.

Estate planning is the act of preparing for the transfer of a person's wealth and assets after his or her death. Assets, life insurance, pensions, real estate, cars, personal belongings, and debts all belong to one's estate.

RETREIVE YOUR DOCUMENTS

Jamaicans typically store their documents at their attorneys' offices, in bank safety deposit boxes, in safety boxes at home, under their beds, in drawers or in other safe places. Now is a good time to retrieve your estate documents and read them carefully.

Consider the following questions:

Are any of the people listed in the documents deceased?

Do you have any children you wish to add to your title?

Do you wish to add a spouse to your title?

Are your property tax payments up to date?

Is your life insurance valid?

Is your home insurance valid?

Is your medical insurance valid?

Are your passport and visa valid?

Is your driver's licence valid?

Is your firearm licence valid?

EXAMINATION OF ESTATE DOCUMENTS

Examine your last will and testament to ensure your executor(s) are still alive. It is prudent to appoint at least two executors; therefore, if one of your executors is deceased, it is a good time to appoint a new one.

Read your will again carefully to ensure that the listed assets are still available to you. People frequently sell shares, real estate and motor vehicles, and they may close bank accounts or allow them to become dormant. However, if these assets are still listed in your will, it is good time to have it updated.

Additionally, if you have had more children or remarried since you last wrote your will, you may wish to update it to include the new children and/or spouse.

Do your documents adequately describe your testamentary wishes? Are changes necessary? It is relatively easy to add a codicil to your will and even easier to amend a trust. Rather than amending your powers of attorney, it is probably easier (and better) to simply write up new documents.

OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

Do your fiduciaries (executors) know where you keep your original documents?

Have you made a list of your accounts and do you keep it with your original documents or some other special place that can be accessed?

Are your assets (bank accounts, vehicles and brokerage accounts) titled appropriately?

Do you wish to avoid probate?

Does anyone have access to your passwords? Do your documents grant control of your digital assets?

MEDICAL POWER OF ATTORNEY

A medical power of attorney is a serious legal document. Therefore, you must ensure that the person to whom you grant the right to make life decisions is the person you wish to remain in that position. So, you may wish to check that your nominated power of attorney and the trustee of your trust are still appropriate. Perhaps your children are older now and can take on the responsibility, or the family member chosen to be your fiduciary now has 'issues'.

Consider whether there is a better alternative.

INVESTIGATE INTEREST RATES

If you took out a mortgage on a house, car or business 10 or 15 years ago, it is a good time to revisit your mortgage terms to find out whether you can renegotiate a lower interest rate, which may be as low as 6.95 per cent. Contact your mortgage company via e-mail to obtain information on how you can reduce your interest rate and save money.

In times of panic, the stock market is always affected because stocks are an emotional investment. As a result of people panicking, the stock market has significantly declined.

In times like these, it is important not to sell unless you are of a certain age and cannot afford to lose money or you intend on making an investment.

Therefore, contact your broker via e-mail or visit the Jamaica Stock Exchange website to inform yourself of the value of your shares so that you can make an informed decision rather than an emotional one.

Venice Williams-Gordon is a partner and attorney-at-law at Lewis, Smith, Williams & Company. She can be contacted via email at vwilliams@lswlegal.com.


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