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Making Wills and Trusts During COVID-19

Making Wills and Trusts During COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis is prompting a spike in estate planning, but requires a new approach to the actual signing of important documents.

After the initial shock of the pandemic, people are realizing not just that they need to update their wills, but the people who have been named in important roles. In a recent article from The New York Times, “What to Know About Making a Will in the Age of Coronavirus,” one person said, “I think I still have my jerk brother as the trustee. I need to change that.”  Making Wills and Trusts During COVID-19, and updating them as well, has thankfully been made simpler.

However, with social distancing now being the new norm, some necessary processes for finalizing estate plans are calling for extra creativity. While lawyers can draft any necessary documents from their home offices, the documents need to be signed by clients and, depending upon the document and the state, by witnesses and notaries. These parties usually need to be in the same room for the documents to be considered legally valid. Indeed, one of the main problems with making a will online for from a form book, is that people often fail to understand the technical rules about how to properly execute the paperwork they have made.

New York’s Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued an executive order on March 7 that declared a disaster emergency in the state and temporarily gave notaries the authority to authenticate documents by videoconference. Other governors have also issued executive orders to allow video notarizations, including Illinois, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Washington. It’s safe to say that more states will probably permit this as time goes on.

However, besides needing notarizations, wills in Illinois and other documents often require two unrelated witnesses in the room when the document is signed. That also goes for the health care proxy, which gives a person the ability to name someone to make medical decisions on their behalf, if they become incapacitated.

I have been setting up videoconferences for my Chicagoland clients.  I set up a Zoom from my home office here in Naperville, and I have witnesses participate by Zoom as well.  They will view your signing the documents by video.  You do need to hold up each document to the camera before and after signing. It feels a bit odd at first, but it’s very efficient and much, much safer than meeting in person.  The documents are then scanned and sent to me by email. I will gather all the original documents, verify them and package the for my clients.

Not every state is making changes to permit these documents to be witnessed and notarized, so there may be many outdoor signings taking place in the weeks and months to come. Speak with your estate planning attorney, who will know the laws that apply to your state and the best way to be making wills and trusts during COVID-19.

Reference: The New York Times (March 26, 2020) “What to Know About Making a Will in the Age of Coronavirus”


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