The Covid 19 pandemic is giving a new urgency to estate planning. But since we need witnesses and a notary to sign many documents, how do we adhere to the signing requirements AND the requirements of social distancing in light of the pandemic?
We have a solution that delivers peace of mind to clients on all counts. As of this writing, Massachusetts is considering remote notarization, a process where a notary public can see a client sign a document over the internet and subsequently notarize that document. Massachusetts may soon adopt remote notarization, and in light of the pandemic, I hope they do. In the meantime, here is the solution that is working beautifully:
- The client reviews the final documents by phone and email (or regular mail) for accuracy. A signing date is scheduled at the client’s convenience.
- The day before signing, the final documents are printed and clipped to large clipboard with specific instructions as to where the client must initial and sign. The clipboards are then placed
in large legal document folder with a cover (a “redwell”) which is sprayed with Lysol and placed in a cool, dry area where it is not disturbed for 24 hours.
- At the appointed time, the client drives up curbside and remains in their vehicle.
- I put a medical glove on my hand, spray it with Lysol and place the redwell containing documents next to the client’s car door (their window remains up). The client retrieves the documents once I am far enough away and can take as long as they want to do so.
- The documents are clipped to a large clipboard with specific instructions as to exactly what the client needs to initial and sign. Each signature block has a “Sign Here” tag.
- Standing more than 10 feet away from the client’s vehicle, I initiate a conference call on my cell phone, calling the clients (who are in their car) and the witnesses who are looking through a closed window 10 feet the other way.
- “Do you sign these documents freely and voluntarily?” I ask the clients as the witnesses listen on their own phones. I review any other statements that may pertain to certain documents with the witnesses hearing and seeing.
- To the witnesses, I ask, “Do the clients appear to be of sound mind? Do they appear to be under any undue influence, and do they appear to be over the age of 18 years?” I make certain that the witnesses verify that each clearly sees and clearly hears the clients. The clients, the witnesses and the notary (me) are all in each other’s presence.
- If the clients have not previously sent me their drivers licenses, I ask them to hold them up, and I take a picture of the license. Cell phone cameras are so good now that the camera lens reaches further than the coronavirus.
Video Web Conferencing is a decent substitute for in person meetings, and reviewing the documents is pretty much the same as it has always been, by phone, email and regular mail.
The pandemic gives a new urgency to estate planning. We have found a solution that maintains the requirements of signing documents as well as the requirements of social distancing.
As we say at the office, where there’s a will, there’s a way.