Estate Planning During a Pandemic
By Jennifer L. Fox, J.D., LL.M.
Due to the current pandemic, many of us have been thinking about our mortality. As a result, pushing off one’s estate plan is no longer an option. During these unpredictable times, individuals are motivated to quickly create or update their estate plans. The issue becomes how to effectively service clients during this pandemic.
As we all know by now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends social distancing of six feet, masks coverings, sanitizing surfaces and no large gatherings. So, how can estate planning attorneys safely meet with clients and execute documents? A typical signing includes the client(s), attorney, two witnesses, and a notary. Not to mention, they will all be touching the same documents in the same confined space.
Thanks to innovative attorneys and technology, there are safe alternatives to the traditional signing. Pre-Covid, Florida pioneered a new law that authorized remote witnessing as of January 1, 2020. The electronic wills portion of the new law began July 1, 2020. Witnesses must use audio-video communication technology. The law also authorizes remote notarization provided that the testator can answer verbal questions posed by the notary. If remote witnessing and notarizing makes you feel uncomfortable, then there are safety precautions that can be taken for in-person signings.
Much like fast food restaurants, some law offices have drive-thru signings, minus the happy meal. Other law firms have clients come into the office but practice social distancing by seating individuals on opposite sides of the conference room and placing safety shields between them. They also continuously clean all surfaces and pens. Additionally, scheduling clients with time in between appointments prevents clients from congregating in the lobby. Clients’ temperatures can be checked when they enter the office and hand sanitizer should be readily available. It goes without sayings, masks are mandatory, and ill clients and employees are advised to stay home. Employees should also work six feet apart if they are not working remotely from home.
Attorneys were identified as essential workers during this pandemic. So, it is more important than ever to be there for clients and provide them safe, but essential services. Throughout these uncertain times, individuals should have the comfort of knowing that their attorney can still safely put their estate plan in order.