The MLO Minute: By, Lesley Mehalick, J.D., LL.M., Supervising Partner of The Estates and Trusts Department at McAndrews, Mehalick, Connolly, Hulse and Ryan P.C.
COVID-19 has brought many challenges and changes to our world, and it has highlighted the importance of preemptive estate planning. Having documents in place that clearly provide your wishes and appoint caretakers you trust in the event of your death or incapacity has never seemed more timely.
Traditional estate planning has involved various face-to-face meetings with your attorney and office staff. Even though many Pennsylvania Counties are moving into the yellow and green phases, maintaining social distancing structures is important for everyone’s safety, and many persons are immunocompromised or are close to someone who is. We are committed to providing safe and effective legal services to our clients, and we have adapted our estate planning process as described below, to fit the changing times, and to help our clients remain safe and to be fully comfortable with the process.
While our meetings can be held either over the phone or though a video format, and the clients can review and approve draft documents by email, the actual signing, including witnessing and notarization, of the documents in a timely and correct fashion has presented more issues. We have thus honed a “drive thru” document signing process to witness documents while maintaining social distance. Our process typically is as follows – we ask that when you arrive at our office, you stay in your car and call us to let us know of your arrival. We further ask that clients bring their own blue pen to execute the documents. While you wait in the car, a staff person from our office, wearing gloves and a mask, will come out and leave your documents where you can see them (typically on our front porch, more than 6 feet from your vehicle). The documents will be tabbed on each page where you need to sign. We then go back inside. At that point, you can pick up the documents and take them back to your car to sign. We witness your signing from inside our office through the windows (all staff maintaining appropriate distance). You can call us while signing with any questions or if you would prefer us to walk you through the documents. Once you’re finished executing your documents, we ask that you bring all the documents back to the steps or porch and leave them there. You then return to your car, at which point we will come outside and check to make sure all documents are executed correctly. After all documents are properly signed, witnessed, and notarized, we mail you the originals on blue backers and maintain a copy for our file (unless you direct our office to hold your originals).
While this process is more cumbersome than a traditional signing where everyone in in attendance in the same room, we have found that the process can be done in an efficient manner that provides comfort to our clients and staff. Our collective health and safety is of the utmost importance to our attorneys and staff, and we hope that the adaptations we have developed provide comfort to anyone in need of estate planning services.