Signing Estate Planning Documents in a COVID-19 World

Many clients are reaching out to execute estate plans they have delayed finalizing and signing. There are many options to get this accomplished. Depending on the circumstance, it may be appropriate to sign the documents in one of our offices or at your home, in either instance while practicing social distancing and wearing gloves and masks. However, there are other options to get your estate planning documents signed and in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are five things you should know.

  • You may be able to sign the documents on your own. Clients may be able to sign documents on their own. If so, your Burns & Levinson attorney can forward you instructions on how to have an out of office signing. You may need witnesses who can be friends or neighbors who are practicing social distancing while watching you sign the documents. 
  • Online notarization is still in its infancy. While a few states allow for online notarization of certain types of documents, most do not, and only a handful of states allow for electronic wills. Nevada and Indiana, for instance, allow for electronic wills, while Florida’s electronic will statute becomes effective on July 1, 2020. Massachusetts does not currently allow for either electronic wills or online notarization.
  • Movement to push for online notarization during global health crisis could expand options. Some states may allow for temporary electronic notarization of documents during the pandemic. Massachusetts attorneys, for instance, are working on a petition to the governor requesting that attorneys who are notaries be allowed to notarize documents and conduct will signings online during this period. Stay tuned for more information as these efforts unfold. 
  • Notarization of wills is not necessarily required. While many attorneys have wills notarized, your state’s statutes may not actually require notarization in order to have a valid will. In Massachusetts, for instance, if you are able to have two people witness your will, you do not need a notary for a valid will. You will, however, need to prove the will as valid afterward. This can be accomplished after the fact by having the parties later sign an affidavit in front of a notary when it is safe to do so.
  • Trusts may have different notarization requirements. Although many attorneys include notarization as a form of best practice if you are signing a trust, there are some states where it is not required (Massachusetts is one of them). For the time being, you may be able to simply sign the trust on your own and a notary can acknowledge the signature later when it is safe. (Note, this is not an option if the trust involves real estate and needs to be recorded at the registry of deeds.) 

Burns & Levinson is offering creative solutions to get estate planning documents signed and in place.  Speak with your estate planning attorney to find the best solution for your situation.

About the Author: Christine Fletcher
As a partner in and co-chair of the firm’s Private Client group, Christine Fletcher helps families plan for life’s transitions whether it is moving assets to the next generation, minimizing estate taxes or ensuring assets pass to intended recipients. Estate planning solutions can be simple, but like life, they can also be complicated. Issues arise with second marriages, divorce, blended families and unfortunate family crises. Christine listens to clients’ goals and develops plans for them that meet those goals.
Christine is a regular contributor for Forbes.com where she gives advice on successfully managing trusts and estates. She can be reached at cfletcher@burnslev.com or 617.345.3607.

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