The MLO Minute: By Dennis McAndrews, Esq.
Just yesterday I read in the newspaper of various often-unnecessary gyrations which some attorneys are using across the country to execute wills during the current health crisis. In one situation out of New York, a couple signed their wills on the hood of their car in their law firm‘s parking lot as the lawyers looked on from a distance as witnesses. In a California case, it was reported that an estate planning lawyer is now setting up folding card tables in clients‘ driveways to execute their wills. Fortunately, in Pennsylvania and other jurisdictions where we practice, such extraordinary measures are usually unnecessary, and we can arrange for your will to be signed in your home.
How is this possible? First and foremost, a will does not need to be notarized in order to be valid, and in Pennsylvania, even a will without witnesses which is signed only by the testator is valid. Of course, it is always preferable to have a will signed before two adult witnesses and notarized so as to ease and simplify the probate process. However, we are currently living in extraordinary times, and the need for estate planning, especially among individuals who are vulnerable to the current coronavirus pandemic, has become more time-sensitive. There is nothing in Pennsylvania law, and under the law of most states, that prevent witnesses from generally observing signatures by electronic or video means. While documents cannot be notarized through a video conference in Pennsylvania, witnesses can witness a will through video, and of course other adult family members who are in the same household can also serve as witnesses in the physical presence of the testator. When a will is signed at home before family members (beneficiaries can be witnesses) but without a notary, it would be useful if possible to video the signing of the will using a smart phone, and forward that video to our office while keeping a copy for yourself.
We are continuing to use all forms of technology to assist our clients with their wills and complete estate planning needs during the current health crisis. If you need a will, or to modify your will, or require other estate planning documents such as trusts, living wills, or powers of attorney, we are prepared to assist you. Of these documents, only a power of attorney needs to be notarized, and we are constantly exploring methods and utilizing alternative means to effectuate the development of powers of attorney through creative means during the current health crisis. In those rare and critical situations where it is absolutely essential that a Power of Attorney be executed and traditionally notarized during this health crisis, we can arrange for this to occur in such emergency circumstances in compliance with the CDC guidelines, but obviously reserve such extraordinary measures for true emergency circumstances. Our website contains simple questionnaires to initiate the estate planning process which can be sent to us electronically or by regular mail, and we will promptly conduct a telephone conference with you and develop your estate planning documents remotely. Once you review and approve your documents, we can assist you by using all means available to execute these documents in a lawful manner. The following link takes you to our estate planning questionnaires, and we look forward to serving you. Click here for our Questionnaires. Click here to contact us today!