How We Handle Estate Planning, Wills, POAs and Other Documents in These Times
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are receiving increased requests for Wills, Powers of Attorney and especially Medical Powers of Attorney and/or Advanced Directives; people without these documents are becoming anxious and are burdened with one more thing to worry about.
We are able to react to the limitations on personal interaction by conducting initial and follow up estate planning meetings via phone, Skype, Zoom and FaceTime — these on-line functions have been working very well. The challenge then becomes "How do we get the documents signed and notarized?"
Maryland law is very strict regarding signing requirements for these documents; for example, a Last Will and Testament must be witnessed by two people who actually witness the Will being executed, and the maker of the Will and the witnesses must all watch one another sign at the same place and at the same time.
If these requirements are not strictly followed, the Will is not valid.
Other documents, for example Powers of Attorney, must be notarized. There has never been a procedure to notarize a document other than in person, in the presence of the signer. A law has been drafted to permit "remote" notarization, but it was not due to be effective until October 2020; that bill is now being expedited by the Maryland State Legislature, but frankly, its requirements are so onerous that we don't see that legislation as providing a solution.
Therefore, in order to overcome this challenge and provide an opportunity for those clients who are anxious to sign these documents to do so, we have installed a framed clear plexiglass barrier down the center of our conference table (see photo); we call this our "COVID Shield."
We and our clients also perform appropriate prior-to-meeting hand-washing, social-distancing and wear masks; the client sits on one side of the glass and the notary and witness(es) sit on the other side.
By these means, we are able to complete the signing process while relieving some worry for our clients (plus, our client even gets to keep the pen!).
Brown, Brown & Young, P.A., an "Essential Occupation," remains open for business and fully operational. Sometimes we need to get creative to get the job done (as in, implementing our COVID Shield), but so far it is working.
Please let us know if we can be of any assistance to you during this very unusual and difficult time.
Thank you in advance for your patience and continued loyalty, as we navigate through this challenging and uncertain situation together.