Sheltering in place during the Covid-19 pandemic has left many of us with time to think. As news outlets keep an anxious tally of each day’s deaths and new infections, it is natural to consider how well prepared we are for the unexpected.
What would happen if I got sick? Who would have the right to take care of me? If the end came suddenly, how would my final arrangements be handled? Who would inherit my assets and settle my estate?
These are difficult questions to grapple with under the best of circumstances. In the midst of a global health crisis, they take on a new sense of urgency. Preparing an estate plan is your opportunity to answer these questions decisively—and to enjoy the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’re ready for whatever lies ahead.
Fortunately, in some ways it’s now easier than ever to work with a lawyer and have your planning paperwork drawn up. Here are three new options to be aware of during this difficult time.
You can probably do the planning from home. As “essential businesses,” most law firms are open and able to take on new work. You probably won’t be able to meet with an attorney face to face, but a phone call or video conference should certainly be possible. The call will be an opportunity to explain your planning goals and learn about the best options for achieving them. Once your documents have been drafted, they can be mailed, FedEx’d, or emailed to you to review.
You have several options for signing your documents. It may be possible to meet briefly at the attorney’s office while social distancing. You, the attorney, and another witness or notary can wear masks and gloves while standing on opposite sides of a large conference table. The signing takes place using sanitized pens, and everyone signs a separate page to minimize the possibility of contagion.
Preparing a will and other estate-planning documents is especially important for members of the LGBTQ community.
A similar approach—using the table in your dining room rather than a conference room—can be taken by having the attorney stop by your home. Many attorneys are happy to provide this service, especially for clients with whom they have an existing relationship, or whose estate-planning needs are especially urgent.
Alternatively, the attorney could send you the documents with instructions for executing them on your own. You will need to have two friends or neighbors act as witnesses, but this can be done using the same kinds of precautions described above.
It is also possible to have the entire signing ceremony take place through a video conference call. You, the witnesses, and the notary would each sign separate signature pages of each document, called “counterparts.” After the signing takes place, the attorney compiles the separate pages into a single, integrated document. The video call should be recorded in case a question later arises about the validity of any of your documents.
Your documents can be notarized remotely. In Maryland, wills, codicils, and advance medical directives do not need to be notarized, but trusts and powers of attorney generally do. If one of your documents needs a notary stamp, the notary can work remotely through a recorded video call. Your attorney will be able to arrange this service, which requires a notary who has registered with the state to act remotely.
What documents are you likely to be signing? A typical estate plan includes a will or trust, a financial power of attorney, and an advance medical directive. You might, however, just want to make a quick change to your will—perhaps to add a bequest to a new family member or change your child’s guardian. In this case, an amendment to your will, called a codicil, can be prepared.
Most codicils are only a page or two and can be drawn up and executed relatively quickly. This can be a helpful stopgap solution during the pandemic. Then, when it is once again possible to meet with your attorney face to face, you can discuss possibly making more substantive changes to your will.
If you’re like most people, you’ve been meaning to prepare or update your will for some time. In the current health crisis, the need may seem more urgent, but your options are also more numerous. Call an LGBTQ estate planning attorney today to get started.
Lee Carpenter is an Estates & Trusts attorney at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. This article is intended to provide general information about legal topics and should not be construed as legal advice. For qualified legal counsel contact Lee Carpenter at Lee.Carpenter@saul.com or 410.332.8626.