Thanks to technology, our firm is fully operational during the COVID-19 pandemic and has already assisted clients with the “new temporary normal” of sheltering in place. Clients concerned with travel to execute wills can be provided the wills by email for execution near their home with detailed instructions on how to sign. Since a notary may not be available, the wills are sent without the self-proving provision as wills are still valid with just two independent witnesses. We urge people to have non-family members as witnesses, like neighbors, so no one will later question the will’s validity. You can still be present together and practice proper hand washing/sanitizing and social distancing while executing a will. For instance, sign at a table outside in the fresh air staying six feet apart. As long as the witnesses see the Testator or Testatrix sign and the Testator or Testatrix sees the witnesses sign, all in the same general area, the will is valid.
Likewise, there is no need for a notary public to a health care surrogate document if you need to sign one. One format our firm uses only requires two witnesses. One format allows you to select a health care surrogate for your own minor child if you need to have one prepared for him or her. At least one of the witnesses should not be related to you, but out of a sense of being conservative it is best that both not be related and not named in the document as a surrogate. The address and telephone numbers of the surrogates should be included in the document, but please do not worry if you realize someone has changed addresses. Most cell phone numbers stay the same when people move. However, if you notice your current health care surrogate does not have a correct phone number for a surrogate and are sheltering in place, just attach your own separate note for the proper contact information at this time. If you need to update your health care surrogate document or your advanced directive living will, our office can prepare and email them for printing and include offsite-signing instructions. While lawyers cannot assist in the execution of DNR documents, our office has the forms (on yellow paper) and can provide blank forms to our clients who request by regular mail, if they do not want to venture out.
We continue to work on clients’ trusts and trust amendments during COVID-19. In the majority of cases, our firm uses a notary public with trusts and trust amendments, in case someone wants to include real estate as an asset of the trust. Most of my clients who have the need for a trust want to include their residence as an asset. At this time, that would mean that a client would need to come into the office to execute a trust or trust amendment or have access to signing in front of witnesses and a notary public near their home. In all cases, though clients with email access and ability to read PDF files or Microsoft Word documents may limit their travel time by communicating with us via phone and email while we work on their estate plan documents. In addition, durable powers of attorney for financial purposes will also still require witnesses and a notary public to be effective, although we can work with drafts and revisions before execution using email or regular mail.
Blalock Walters is committed to assisting our clients for all their legal needs. Please do not hesitate to call in and please leave a message for the attorney you are seeking. Attorneys have access to their emails and office phones and cell phones whether working in the office or remotely. For more information, please contact 941.748.0100 or email estate planning attorney Dana Gentry at email@example.com.