During these unique and unprecedented times, we at Family Estate Planning Law Group are still working hard to help our families create estate plans and update their estate plans efficiently while also focusing on keeping everyone safe through social distancing practices. With the new stay at home order extended to May 18th, we have come up with several options to help our clients efficiently and safely review and execute their estate planning documents until it is safe for us to start in-person meetings again.
As part of a client’s estate plan signings, we review all documents that our clients will be signing in-depth with them and discuss their overall plan before any documents are signed. We have been utilizing Zoom video meetings with clients to review their documents and find that this method has been working very well. If a client does not have access to Zoom or is uncomfortable with a video conference, we can send the documents to the client as drafts via email (or mail) and review them with the client over the phone.
For signing estate plan documents, our first method is what we have been calling our “drive-thru signings.” It is our opinion that these signings have worked quite well so far. When a client’s documents are ready for signature, we schedule at time for them to come to the office to sign. When they get to the office, they will see a table in the lobby with chairs and sanitized pens for them to use for the signing. Our team will be assisting the signing and serving as witnesses and the notary from behind our glass office doors. One of our team members will bring the clients’ documents, which will be marked where the client needs to sign. Once all documents are signed, a team member will collect them from the clients, confirm that all pages have been signed, sign as witnesses and notary, and then the client is all set to head home.
Another method became available on April 27th when Massachusetts passed its Virtual Notary Act. Prior to this act being passed, for any documents that needed to be notarized, including estate planning documents, the person signing the documents had to physically be in the presence of the notary. For this reason, we initially implemented the “drive-thru signings.” Now Massachusetts allows MA attorneys and paralegals to notarize documents that they have seen the client sign over a video conference. There are several very specific procedures and requirements that the notary and the client signing must follow in connection with these virtual signings. The way this would work is that our office would send the client the unsigned documents by email or mail and once the client received the documents, we would set up a video conference for the virtual notary. If the documents are sent by email the client would need to print them out, but the client cannot sign the documents until instructed to do so by the notary in the video conference. After the conference is complete and the documents are signed, the client needs to send the signed documents along with copies of the front and back of their photo identification back to our office so that the notary can finalize them. We can discuss procedure and requirements of the virtual notary sessions with each client if they are interested in choosing this option for their signings. Please be aware that this virtual notary can only be used if the person signing and the notary are both physically located in Massachusetts. For any of our New Hampshire clients or clients that are quarantining out of state, this will not be an available option.
Finally, some of our clients are still working at their offices during the pandemic. If a client has someone in their office that is a notary and can find two disinterested witnesses to witness the signing of their documents, we can send the client their documents and provide specific instructions for how to sign the document and how to have the documents witnessed and notarized. In connection with this method, clients have asked if they could go to a bank and have the bank employees notarize and be the witnesses. This may be an option but due to the pandemic, banks are only seeing customers by appointment and are reducing the number of employees working at any given time.
We at Family Estate Planning Law Group would be happy to discuss all these methods with our clients and advise on what method we think would work best on a case by case basis. We understand that some clients might not feel comfortable coming to the office or might not have access to the required technology for the virtual signings. By having multiple methods available, we can help our clients in almost any situation.
If you or someone you know has been thinking about getting their affairs in order and believes now more than ever is the time to create a plan or update their estate plan, we at Family Estate Planning Law Group are here to help and can do so safely.