The need for social distancing is likely to continue as COVID-19 cases surge in many states—and that may cause additional complications when it comes to estate planning. While planning your estate is as important as it’s ever been, putting a plan together and executing critical documents can be a challenge if you’re trying to avoid in-person meetings or if you need to self-quarantine.
Thankfully, it’s possible to do much of your estate planning from home. Different states have significantly different requirements, and it’s important to consult with an estate planning advisor prior to putting a plan into action, but these strategies may help you plan your estate while social distancing guidelines are still in effect.
Remote planning is possible
While meeting in person with your advisor has its advantages, it’s also possible to discuss creating or updating an estate plan using video conferences or phone calls. You can also transmit and review document drafts via email, traditional mail, or secure online portals.
Under normal circumstances, estate planning documents are usually executed in an attorney’s office with witnesses and a notary public present. You may still be able to sign the necessary documents in person by taking the appropriate precautions—but there are also available alternatives that may allow you to execute documents outside the attorney’s office.
Options for remotely executing documents
Your options for executing a given document will depend at least partially on the type of document being signed:
Most states require that at least two witnesses be physically present at the signing of typewritten wills (or the signing of modifications or codicils to existing wills). Typically, there is also an additional requirement that these witnesses be “disinterested,” meaning that they won’t receive an inheritance through the will or otherwise benefit from it.
The rules governing acceptable witnesses vary by state, however. You may still be able to conduct your will signing at home (after consulting with your attorney) if you live in a state that allows family members and other interested parties to serve as witnesses. In this case, you can simply have your family members witness the signing.
Notarizing your will may present another issue. Although most states don’t require it, wills are usually notarized as a best practice, and the self-proving affidavit that is attached to many wills also requires notarization.
Some states may offer an additional alternative in the form of “holographic,” or handwritten, wills. Unlike typewritten wills, handwritten will typically don’t require notarization of the presence of witnesses.
Many states allow for the signing of trust documents without witnesses or notarization, and you may even be able to sign a trust electronically. One way to avoid the typical signing requirements for a will is to transfer all assets to a revocable trust by signing a holographic “pour over” will—this strategy may allow you to accomplish many of the goals of a traditional will without requiring an in-person signing.
Monitor legal developments
In recent years, certain changes have been made to the requirements for signing estate planning documents, and future changes may be accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A handful of states permit online notarization and electronic wills (e-wills), meaning that you may be able to execute these documents without being required to physically interact with anyone. While these technologies are relatively new, their adoption is being considered by lawmakers in several states.
If you have questions about your estate planning documents, contact us today.