By Tim Barkley. January 2021.

2020 hindsight. That’s when we look back and try to see more clearly than we could in the moment.

Stress test. That’s when we test ourselves to see if we’re fit and healthy, so we can fix what’s wrong before it’s too late.

2020 was our stress test – as individuals, as a Town, a society and a nation, even as a world community. We behaved mostly as people behave anytime they’re under stress – some better than usual, even heroic; some worse, even nefarious; most of us just plodding along and trying to get along, stay safe and sane, and get through somehow.

Many folks realized their mortality more acutely than usual, and reviewed and updated their financial and estate plans. It’s harder to just leave the 30-year old will on the shelf gathering dust, when the news reminds us nightly that we (or our children) might need to use it on very short notice.

Powers of attorney, always vital documents, became urgent when folks quarantined or just stayed home. And powers of attorney that only work when you’re incompetent didn’t work at all. That’s why a well-drafted power of attorney doesn’t require that you be incompetent before someone can help you with mundane daily tasks that became very challenging from home.

Medical directives … obviously. Many of us realized that we can’t just assume we have infinite leisure to consider our options and “get around to” putting something together. We also realized that we have very little control over seemingly little things that might be suddenly determinative of our longevity.

We signed papers in parking lots, on side lawns, on porches and decks. We stood outside and watched people sign, then passed the papers out through the door, opened just a crack, so we could witness and notarize. Kudos to all those brave assistants and staff members standing outside in the cold with the boss, who did what needed to be done so folks could be provided for.

The sense of urgency made folks face up to unpleasant reality. Bravo, if you have done so. If not, now is the time to contact your planning professionals and get things moving.

Because really, the sense of urgency engendered by the circumstances of 2020 (and now into 2021) is simply the reality of our lives. We just ran out of distractions.

Check your retirement plan and insurance beneficiary designations. Are these still apropos? Do you have contingent or secondary beneficiaries, in case your primary beneficiary is not there to receive the benefit?

Check your bank accounts and CD’s. Do you have “paid on death” beneficiaries on these accounts? How about mutual funds and stocks – do you have “transfer on death” designations in place?

If you have your own business, have you made provision for what happens if you can’t run the business? If you are deceased? Simple planning can ease a difficult transition; lack of that planning can make for disaster for your family.

If you have young children, a will is the only way in Maryland to name a guardian. If you don’t name a guardian in a will, it’s up to a judge who doesn’t know your family or your children to decide what’s best for your children, and that can be disastrous.

Do you know where to find your papers? Does anyone else? One lady called me because her brothers had both passed away from COVID – and the wills were in the house they shared. She dared not go in to get the wills, but needed to start the probate process to pay their bills. Make sure your documents are accessible.

We all hope this will end soon, and maybe it will. Hopefully, it will. Let’s remember what we learned, so the next stress test is less damaging.


Attorney Tim Barkley
The Tim Barkley Law Offices
One Park Avenue
P.O. Box 1136
Mount Airy
Maryland 21771

 (301) 829-3778

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