Should You Create or Update Your Estate Plan During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
We are living during and through what most likely will be considered an historic infamous global event, not unlike past global pandemics or even world wars. So should you change your estate plan because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Because of COVID-19 and the ever increasing medical, economic, social and emotional changes we are witnessing, many of us are reflecting on our individual mortality.
This reflection has raised the following questions by multiple clients, potential clients, family and co-workers alike:
- should I create or update my estate plan during this crisis; and
- how can I create or update my estate plan with the new stay-at-home order and social distancing rules we have in
Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey has decreed that legal services rendered by law firms are deemed an essential business, thus our firm remains open during this time.
Just because we remained open however, does not mean we didn’t have to change the way we do business.
The answer to the first question posed above is easy: you should never procrastinate creating or even updating your essential estate planning documents such as a Last Will and Testament; Living Trust; Medical Health Care Power of Attorney; Mental Health Care Power of Attorney; Living Will; Organ Donation Document and or Financial Power of Attorney.
You estate plan is intended to be a current and accurate set of instructions naming people you trust at this moment in time to take of you and your affairs if the worst were to happen to you. Creating, updating and making minor adjustments should not be delayed, even if our society were not going through today’s pandemic.
The second question is more difficult to answer. In Arizona, the various estate planning documents mentioned above require a signature by the person creating the documents, usually in the presence and hearing of either a witness, a Notary Public, or possibly both.
This means that a client or prospective client may need to be in the physical presence of these other, usually non-related individuals to create valid estate planning documents. This requirement seems to go against the stay-at-home order put in place by our Governor.
Fortunately, Arizona has enacted a “remote notarization” law that will enable a Notary to use audio-visual technology over the internet instead of being in the same room as the signer to notarize such documents. Unfortunately, Arizona’s remote notarization law does not go into effect until July 1, 2020, which may be well after our stay-at-home order has been lifted. Additionally, this new law does not consider a situation for a “remote witness,” which some estate planning documents also require.
Colleagues of mine in Arizona’s estate planning community have been working through back channels in the governor’s office to expedite the remote notarization law and consider a remote witness law to go with it.
In the meantime, as the answer to the first question was clearly, you should not wait to create, update or adjust your estate plan, what is the current solution to question number two?
Although law firms in Arizona may have differing internal policies for working with clients during this pandemic, Rowley Chapman and Barney offers any of the following solutions:
- We will continue to have face-to-face meetings with clients for design and signing purposes. At such meetings, all interior doors will be open, so as to avoid touching handles when you enter our office, you will be provided a pen that you will keep and not return, all tables and other common surfaces are disinfected throughout the day, we will not shake hands or even “elbow bump” but maintain a proper social distance throughout all meetings. Additionally, clients are welcomed to wear gloves, masks or any other protective means during a client meeting.
- For those clients that do not want to have a face-to-face meeting, teleconference or video meetings may be conducted for both consultation and design meeting purposes.
- Although signings meetings are a little more tricky, in that the notary and witnesses still require a physical presence, we will offer
- an in-house signing, with the protections described above;
- a “drive through” signing, where a client can remain in his or her vehicle and communicate through the window or even cell phones;
- have a signing in a larger meeting area such as a lobby, outdoors or even on a client’s front porch; or
- mailing/e-mailing estate planning documents to a client for signature, witnessing and notarization in their own environment with their own witnesses and notary.
As we adjust our practice and the way we interact with clients during this crisis, we know this crisis, like the pandemics and wars from our history books, will also pass.
If you have any questions regarding family based estate planning, Arizona probate administration, trust administration or any other legal issues, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, please call the attorneys at Rowley, Chapman & Barney (480) 833-1113 .