Before COVID-19, many people were guilty of putting off their estate planning for a variety of reasons-- they didn't have time, they didn't have a large estate, their situation is straightforward so they don’t think they need a plan…and the list goes on. However, things have changed recently due to the pandemic, and people are looking to get their affairs in order now more than ever.
Here are some things to know about estate planning during these uncertain times:
1. Most estate planning can be done at home. Technology allows attorneys to meet with their clients virtually via video conference software such as Zoom or Facetime or simply by phone, and estate plan documents can be sent out to clients via email or mail for their review and execution.
2. Use the time to get your affairs in order. Most people have an abundance of free time that they usually wouldn't have, so now is the time to get started on that estate plan that you've been putting on hold for years.
3. There are many options for signing documents. Businesses are starting to reopen, so many law firms are now offering socially-distanced in-person signing meetings at their office. Others are still working remotely and can do virtual signings with clients over video conference.
4. It is not always necessary to meet with your attorney for document signing. If you are unable to meet with your attorney either in-office or virtually for your signing, you can ask them to send your documents to you and then execute them in front of a Notary and witnesses (friends or neighbors). It is best to check with your attorney on how to handle out-of-office signings.
5. Online Notarization is still a new concept. Laws for online Notarization vary by state and states that do allow online Notarization can be limited to what documents they are permitted to Notarize online. Similarly, very few states (Nevada, Indiana, and Florida) allow electronic Wills.
6. Movement to push for online Notarization during the global health crisis could expand options. Although online Notarization is typically only available in a few states, certain states allow temporary electronic Notarization of documents due to the current circumstances. Check with your attorney to see if your state is allowing online Notarization.
7. Notarization of Wills is not necessarily required. While it is highly recommended to have your Will both Notarized and witnesses, some states do not require Notarization. However, the Will will have to be proven as valid later on by having all parties (testator and witnesses) sign an affidavit in front of a Notary as soon as possible.
8. Trusts may have different Notarization requirements. Some states do not require trusts to be Notarized unless the trust involves real estate. It is advisable to sign your trust sooner than later in some cases and then have a Notary acknowledge the signature later on once possible.
As you can see, estate planning laws and procedures vary by state, but it is best to speak with your local estate planning attorney to understand your options during this time.