Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer Laurie Garrett predicts that the current coronavirus pandemic will last at least another 36 months. Made famous by her explanatory journalism on the Ebola virus, she says that with COVID-19 we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. So we’ll be having many more deaths, more dire economic consequences and more lockdowns. Here I explore how all of that, its implications for survivors, liabilities and beneficiaries, and in particular how relationships are being changed forever by lockdowns, could mean that we all need to look again at the wordings of our wills and trusts.
You have probably never heard of Laurie Garrett. But she was on Channel 4 News recently speaking to anchorman Jon Snow from New York. If you missed it then you missed out. But never mind. Because you’ll be hearing a lot more from – and about – her.
Her Pulitzer Prize was won in the field of Explanatory Journalism, back in 1996, for a series of works published in ‘Newsday’ which chronicled the Ebola virus outbreak in Zaire. To put this win in perspective, there are literally tens of millions of science articles written every year. Only somebody of outstanding calibre, somebody who is not just a writer but a scientist, is ever going to stand an earthly chance of winning such an accolade.
But Ms Garrett didn’t just run a de facto commentary on the Ebola virus. And she’s not just writing of her observations regarding the 7th coronavirus. Because this is a lady who is widely credited with predicting the advent of COVID-19. In other words she saw it coming. Moreover she put her reputation on the line and wrote about it.
The highly regarded New York Times, at www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-prediction-laurie-garrett.html, is amongst those who recognise her unique insights. Recently its headlines screamed ‘She Predicted the Coronavirus. What Does She Foresee Next? Laurie Garrett, the prophet of this pandemic, expects years of death and collective rage’.
So, in short, Laurie Garrett deserves to be listened to. Because, if she proves to be right, there are important consequences for anybody who needs to write a will or set up a trust.
YOU WROTE YOUR WILL OR SET UP A TRUST ALREADY? YOU THINK THAT’S IT? WELL THINK AGAIN, PLEASE!
It would be easy to think ‘I have a will already. I set up a trust too. Why bother me?’ But that would be sheer folly.
That’s because the world is changing very quickly. Ms Garrett anticipates that the unemployment and underemployment we’ve already seen will become the new norm, that people will not be able to pay their mortgages and rents, and it will lead to massive public disruption. But she is far from alone. Many economists now anticipate that the recession we’re currently experiencing will dwarf the Great Depression of 1929 which really endured throughout the 1930s. And that COVID-19 will be with us for years though further coronaviruses may emerge, some of them being more deadly, and that some coronavirus or coronaviruses might combine with influenza during winters.
But hold that thought. Because intertwined with those straitened circumstances we can add a dose of recent experience that tells us we’ll see:
· Many more vulnerable people, and the definition of that vulnerability may broaden if we see mutations as is entirely possible with RNA viruses
· Widespread marital disharmony, domestic abuse, estrangements, separations and divorces as the result of lockdowns
· Family ructions with lasting consequences and likewise the end of what have been, hitherto, lifelong and/or enduring friendships
· Neighbour disputes that may impact on a wish to remain within properties
· The loss or potential loss to COVID-19 of not only beneficiaries but trustees
· The loss of assets due to business disruptions as well as property and market crashes, currency devaluations and bearish market sentiment
· Survivors of COVID-19 who need ongoing medical care because it precipitates strokes, kidney problems and more that require rehabilitation at best and potentially 24/7 specialist care and facilities (e.g. renal dialysis) for life
· Mental illness and maladjustment that could constitute anything from simple social awkwardness to more serious behavioural issues that will impact for the rest of the sufferers’ lifetimes, robbing them of work, security and relationships
· An impact on the young, on their schooling, abilities, prospects, mental wellbeing and physical health (where multi-organ failure appears to be possible with paediatric COVID-19; this is now being termed ‘Paediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome’ and can conceivably leave youngsters needing care for the rest of their lives)
· A rise in anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorders, panic attacks, claustrophobia and agoraphobia amongst those who struggle with isolation – and who may struggle with subsequent socialisation
· The abandonment of international travel as suddenly impractical and/or needlessly hazardous, something that will impact on foreign homes and perhaps mean relatives are never seen again except via videoconferences
· The emergence of all sorts of good Samaritans, people who become saviours when the chips are down and who are thus deserving of help
· Likewise the emergence of people who, through their poor behaviour, volunteer themselves for disinheritance
· A rise in the popularity of a range of charities catering for needs that have become evident during the pandemic (they might include healthcare professionals with post-traumatic stress disorder, foodbanks, ecological groups, hospices and animal welfare)
· A new preference to keep kids at home, maybe avoiding not only school but everything from kindergarten to university too since big establishments are likely to be perceived as venues that risk contagion
· A flight from cities and urban conurbations, a trend towards working from home, and an avoidance of commutes
· A re-examination of values, of beliefs, of faiths and religions that may impact on decision-making and contingency-planning.
The upshot of all of the above is that Goodwills is used to thinking out loud. To running ‘what if’ scenario-planning, so that its clients are genuinely and comprehensively prepared for certain death and, before and after that death, uncertain times.
So, for example, we will talk our clients through how the following might be ideal solutions:
· Revised or new Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs)
· Other solutions for unanticipated losses of
capacity, and knock-on-effects, on the part of any involved party
· Saving for funeral plans, care home fees, medical
emergencies and home-schooling.
Furthermore we can knowledgeably advise clients on how to comply with any religious
imperative – whatever the client’s beliefs – without accidentally contravening
British legislation that could potentially invalidate a will or arrangements
made for a trust.
In summary, I always advise people to pick up the phone and have a chat with Goodwills. Or email us. (We have had limited phone-answering as I write but expect to be back to normal soon. And we respond promptly to emails anyway.)
We’ll be able to give some quick advice free-of-charge and then we can either help to amend / change last wills and testaments or trust documentation. Or start afresh if that seems to make more sense. If we agree that there is the basis of us working together then we can hammer out a solution that lets us finalise wordings, get everything signed off, see it’s safely stored and ultimately ensure
that it’s efficiently executed. Of course we also routinely organise the
probate, that’s the verification of wills. So to have us involved at every step of the way, from start to finish, makes perfect sense. This is especially so if the distribution of assets after death needs to be swift.
I’ll end by referring back to Laurie Garrett. She anticipated ‘years of death and collective rage’. Well death is sadly inevitable for us all. But, as a solicitor, I can tell you authoritatively that death doesn’t need to be associated with rage. Those who plan for the inevitable can slip away calmly then rest assured that they have distributed their earthly possessions in a manner that is in keeping with peaceful repose rather than the gnashing of teeth!
If this has inspired you in any way, you are invited to get hold of me now by emailing email@example.com.
Stay tuned. Stay away from others if you can. And stay safe.