The continued spread of coronavirus has led more people to think about estate planning. This is certainly the case in Florida, where the state has topped 200 daily COVID-19 deaths on several occasions. For most people, an estate planning involves a will, a revocable trust, a durable power of appointment, a designation of health care surrogate and perhaps a living will. Our office remains open during this crisis, however, we are attuned to the health concerns and social distancing requirements caused by the pandemic.
A last will and testament and revocable trust are valid in Florida only if they are signed at the end by the creator (known as the testator) and signed in the presence of two witnesses. When the testator dies, the witnesses will most likely need to testify in probate court in order to prove that their signatures were truly theirs and that they witnessed the execution of the testator. Testators can avoid this cumbersome process by creating a self-proving will, which the testator and witnesses all sign in the presence of a notary public. All of the documents prepared by our office and executed in our office are self-proved.
Obviously, during the pandemic, many people do not want to be in close quarters with others, which makes it difficult to satisfy the two-witness requirement and/or the notary option. And before getting to the point of signing, the will itself must be created, which traditionally has been done in-person in a lawyer’s office.
We are assisting our clients by using videoconferencing, phone conversations and secure email. We also have procedures in place so that clients feel safe when they execute their documents in our office. As long as you can clearly communicate your wishes to you attorney and your attorney can understand them, then preparation of these documents can be accomplished.
If you don’t use a notary, and so are not creating a self-proving will, then you still need two witnesses to sign but you won’t have the option of using an online system. You may have to get creative. You and your witnesses could, for example, sit in your respective vehicles. Your witnesses could watch you sign the will and then you could pass the document from one car to the other so the witnesses could sign, with everyone wearing gloves and using their own pens.
At Bankier, Arlen & Snelling Law Group, PLLC in Delray Beach, our lawyers are available to assist you creating a valid estate planning documents during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Call M. Adam Bankier at 561-278-3110, Robert M. Arlen, Esq. at 561-279-1880 or Linda L. Snelling, Esq. at 561-501-7778 or contact us online to arrange a virtual meeting or phone conversation to get the process started.