Estate Planning and COVID-19 – Protecting What’s Most Important in a Time of Crisis
Estate Planning and COVID-19 – Like so many of us during this pandemic, our anxieties have been at an all-time high. The sense of helplessness and the lack of a clear light at the end of the tunnel have many asking what they can do to better protect themselves and their families. The good news is that we are not completely helpless. Technology has made communicating easier and many states have adapted their current laws to make it easier to have a sense of control when it feels so distant.
First, with video conferencing technology, you can speak face to face with an attorney in your area. Many attorneys are offering complimentary video consultations and you don’t even have to leave your couch. This type of meeting is likely to become the new normal for attorney consultations and I for one couldn’t be happier.
Many of you may already have some valuable estate planning tools in place. Understanding the difference between probate assets v. non-probates assets is the best place to start. If you have a 401(k), an IRA, a life insurance policy or own property as joint tenants with right of survivorship, you have already created an estate plan without knowing it. Any assets that has a designated beneficiary or that you own “jointly” with someone else, passes directly to that beneficiary or joint owner upon your death. That is good news when you consider that this aspect of your estate planning may be immune to COVID-19.
Other important benefits that had been instituted in New York State, for instance, stem from Executive Orders signed by the Governor allowing for the remote notarization of documents (NY Executive Order 202.7) and also the remote witnessing of Will signings (NY Executive Order 202.14). Almost every state has instituted either a remote notary order, a remote witnessing order, or both. Here is a good place to look to see if your state has such orders. While each state is different, the goal is to make it easier (easier that even before the pandemic) for people to secure their families and assets.
How do these remote sessions allow for estate planning and COVID-19? Each state will have a different set of requirements, but In NY, all parties must be on a Zoom or Skype call simultaneously and in the State of New York, the signers must show their IDs to the notary or witnesses, the signatures must take place in sight of the notary or witnesses. The signers must fax or scan the documents to the attorney supervising the Will signing, or the notary public, who will then have the witnesses sign, or the notary will notarize the documents. IMPORTANT: this must happen on the same day as the signing.
It is a good idea to conform the notarization by adding language stating that the signing or notarization are occurring in accordance with the specified executive order. Also, you may want to consider signing the documents again in the direct presence of a notary after the pandemic has abated as a measure of caution. This is a suggestion and no mention of multiple signing is present in the current NY Executive Order.
It is important to remember that if you have children and you have not named a guardian for them in your Will ( in most states it is the only document that a court looks to in determining your choice for a guardian should something happen to you and your child’s other parent), now is the time to act. And if you have been thinking about reviewing your complete Estate Plan, or just your Last Will and Testament, now is the perfect time.
So if you are asking what you can do about your estate planning and COVID-19, there are options. Consult your local attorney to find out the specifics of your state. Ask for a video conference so you can speak face to face. Be proactive and make the most of this quarantine time. We are doing so much to protect our communities, let’s protect our families at the same time.
Timeforfamilies.com, May 7, 2020 by Anthony M. Brown, Esq.
UPDATE: The New York Executive Order allowing for remote notarization and document witnessing has been extended until October 4, 2020.
Contact Anthony at email@example.com.