Estate planning in the days of corona-virus and COVID-19 has been challenging, but not for the reasons you might think.
At Ingle Law, we’d already been working remotely when stay-at-home orders started being issued. In early 2019, we put into place an efficient system to support you to keep the planning and implementation process as simple as possible. Technology has been our friend for a long while now.
Remote Notarization and Witnessing
The challenge has been the need to have four people physically present with one another to sign documents. With the need for healthy spacing, you can see the problem. Massachusetts has been slow to adopt any kind of electronic notarization laws. About 36 other states, including Vermont, Rhode Island and New York, have already adopted it in one way or another.
That’s all changing this week!
On April 23rd, the Massachusetts House and Senate passed an act allowing for remote notarization and witnessing. (As of this writing, the bill is still awaiting Governor Baker’s signature, which is expected. EDIT: Governor Baker signed the Act on April 27th.) The Act allows for you and I and two witnesses to ‘meet’ via video conference to execute legal documents. This means that as long as you have access to a smartphone, tablet or computer with camera and microphone, we can move forward to complete your estate planning documents, and move into the implementation phase.
What This Will Look Like for You
In order to sign documents, we’ll get on a video conference together. Two other Ingle Law team members will also join the conference to act as witnesses. I’ll point out that the conference is being recorded, and confirm your permission to do that, which is required by the Act.
We’ll start by confirming where you are physically located at that moment. This may seem odd, but the Act only covers notarizations that occur within Massachusetts. I’ll also ask you if there is anyone else in the room with you, and if so, who.
For any of my clients who I know personally, we’ll move into the signing phase. But if I don’t know you yet, I’ll ask you to show me the front and back of your photo identification (driver’s license or passport are the two most common.) If you’ll be signing real estate documents (and nearly every estate plan includes signing a new deed) I’ll also ask you for a second form of identification such as a credit or debit card, social security card, tax or utility bill.
I’ll ask you a couple other typical questions to confirm you’re signing of your own free act and deed, and that you’re at least 18 years old. Then you’ll proceed to actually sign your documents. I will ask you the title of the document, how many pages it is, if there are any attachments after the signature page and if so, what they are. I’ll ask to hold up each document to the camera so the witnesses and I can see them.
When Documents Are Considered Complete
It’s important to know that your documents are not considered complete until I’ve received them back and applied my notary stamp and seal. This last step is so important. It can be easy to have a false sense to completion after putting pen to paper. No dropping the ball 3 feet from the goal line! And no worries, we’ll make sure you have a return envelope, with the right amount of postage, to keep this step as simple as putting it in your mailbox or dropping it at the post office.
Once I get everything back from you, we’ll hop on a second video conference so I can confirm that what I’ve received is what you signed. I’ll add my notary stamp and seal, and attach a Virtual Notarization Certificate. At that point, your documents are in full force and effect, and we can move into the implementation and integration phase of your estate plan.
Remote Notarization Not Permanent
The Act itself is only in place for as long as the state of emergency exists in Massachusetts. It is set to automatically repeal three business days after Governor Baker terminates his declaration. However, any documents signed in this way will remain in effect even after the Act is repealed.
No More Excuses for Not Getting Your Will or Trust Done
If you were thinking you’d have to risk your health to finally get your planning done, worry no more. Everything can be done from the comfort of your own home, maintaining healthy spacing.
Let’s get started with a conversation about your planning goals, and how a plan might look. Go to PlanningDiscoverySession.com to let me know a little about you. You’ll then get a link to our schedule to find a time to talk that’s convenient for you.