Many activities at our law office have gone virtual. But signing wills and trusts is an appointment that must be done in person.
That does not mean that wills and trusts cannot be created during the pandemic. In fact, many people are interested in getting their end-of-life paperwork in order. Still, the process has had to change to avoid spreading the virus.
Wills, trusts and other documents are necessary to make sure your wishes are carried out. Medical instructions make sure your health care wishes carried out.
The five key documents to have on hand include:
- A will, the legal document that directs who receives your assets after death and can appoint guardians for minor children. Without one, the state’s law decides what happens after you die.
- Healthcare durable power of attorney, or health care proxy, allows you to name someone to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to.
- Living will, sometimes called an advance care directive, outlines the medical care you want if you are terminally ill, such as use of life-support systems, organ donation and resuscitation.
- Durable power of attorney for finances gives someone the authority to handle your financial affairs if you cannot.
- HIPPA authorization allows people you choose to have access to your medical records and information. This is especially important for parents who want to get medical information for their children over the age of 18.
Wills and Estate Planning Signature Requirements
Florida law requires that a valid will be signed in the presence of at least two witnesses, who must also sign it. Witnesses do not need to know the contents of the will but must complete a notarized statement that the person making the will signed in their presence. The client creating the will must be able to view all signings.
The Florida law changed in January to allow electronic will signatures starting July 1. However, the process and some issues including electronic storage are still being worked out.
The rules are from the Wills Act, which dates to the English Statue of Frauds passed in 1677. The act requires a will to be in writing and signed in front of others in the same room at the same time. The efforts are designed to make sure that wills are created voluntarily without fraud. Wills that have not followed each step can and have been challenged and annulled.
New Wills and Estate Planning Procedures
The Stanford Law Review and others are suggesting that these requirements change, especially because of the pandemic. Until such time, we have created a safe process for creating wills and trusts during the pandemic.
- First, an appointment is made where one of our legal assistants collects and prepares information.
- Then, an in-person (using proper COVID-19 protocols or virtual meeting with the attorney is set to collect other necessary information.
- When the documents are created, approved and ready for signing, the client makes an office appointment.
- Clients are asked to bring masks and disposable gloves to their appointment. If they do not have them, our office will provide them as they are mandatory. A pre-sanitized table, chairs and a clipboard will be set up for the signing. The attorney, witnesses from our office and client will wear masks and disposable gloves. Pens for signing will be wrapped and new, and taken along with documents by the client after the signing.
Why Use an Attorney for Wills and Estate Planning?
Online legal services and templates are available for some documents. However, they do not have the same standards required for attorneys nor regulatory oversight. Their legal terms say their information and documents are not guaranteed to be correct or complete!
Also, each state’s laws for estate planning, probate and trust laws, are unique. As a result, an attorney makes sure you have the correct paperwork for your state. During the heartbreak of loss or illness is not the time to find out that paperwork is not legal.
If you already have a will, but it was written out of state, it is suggested to let a Florida attorney review it to ensure compliance with Florida law. Goldstein, Buckley, Cechman, Rice & Purtz have been helping clients for nearly 60 years with their estate planning needs.
More than 52 percent of people over the age of 55 do not have a will or other key documents they might need during the pandemic. Creating your estate plan with an attorney protects you, the people you care for, and your savings and property.