In the past few weeks, an escalating number of clients have hurried to meet by videoconference and phone.
"Mortality is on the front of their minds,” Rubin, an estate lawyer said. “Spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, clients who I haven't heard from in 10 or 15 years, as well as prospective new clients, have been reaching out to update their existing estate planning documents, or write new ones. It's been pretty unusual to get this many requests. And they want to move quickly.”
Little wonder that fear of COVID-19, has numerous people writing wills and making critical estate planning decisions about who will be in charge of their medical care and finances if they're ill and incapacitated.
Some 52 percent of people age 55-plus don't have a will or the other key estate planning documents that you might need during the pandemic.
With most states imposing stay-at-home orders and strict social distancing mandates, the mechanics of executing these legally binding documents is requiring some virtual interaction.
That's because in most states these important documents require adult (18 or older) witnesses and notarization, a procedure that generally takes place in person and with signatures in front of a notary to be valid.
Some states require witnesses who are “disinterested parties,” meaning they aren't in line to inherit anything. Not easy to do when you're probably hunkered down at home with members of your family to prevent the spread of the virus.
On April 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order permitting remote witnessing of wills, powers of attorney, health care proxies, deeds and other documents. He had previously issued an order permitting video notarization, allowing New York residents who wish to execute new or updated wills, health care proxies or powers of attorney to do so without leaving home or admitting others to their home, provided they follow specific conditions, such as requiring that the videoconference be a direct communication between the person signing, the witnesses and the supervising attorney.
Today, estate lawyers are connecting with clients via videoconference services like Zoom or Skype. The basic estate documents clients typically want to review: a will to legally name who should inherit their property; a durable financial power of attorney that assigns another person to make financial decisions for them if they're incapacitated; a health care power of attorney, along with a living will, to allow a specified individual to make health care decisions for them if they can't do so for themselves; and the HIPAA authorization form to consent for someone else to access medical information from a health care provider.
These are the five essential estate planning documents to have in place during the pandemic. To get details on where your state stands on requirements for witnesses and how to use online notarization, consult an estate planning lawyer, or contact your secretary of state's office, which is in charge of regulating notaries in most states.