I’ve avoided writing about this because I don’t want to take advantage of a bad situation for my personal gain. But I think the time has come for me to say something.
For years, I have advocated that the 40% of people that don’t have estate plans get them. It’s been like screaming into the wind sometimes but hey, I am an estate planning lawyer and I know what happens when people put off doing the right thing with these plans.
They don’t have medical directives and then have a stroke and force their families to obtain guardianship so they can advocate for them. The medical directive is a simple and much more cost-effective way to do the same thing.
They don’t have durable powers of attorney and then have a stroke so the same families have to obtain a conservatorship so they can handle their financial affairs. The power of attorney is a simple and much more cost-effective way to do the same thing.
They don’t have wills prepared. Wills set out how your family will inherit your property and who will take care of the tasks involved in settling your estate (paying the bills, collecting money you are owed, distributing your assets). But they wait until the last possible minute to get a will. Maybe they are having surgery soon. Maybe they are about to go on a vacation. In today’s times, families are often blended and not having a will makes for a really difficult set of problems. Did you know that if you have a second marriage with children from a prior marriage, your spouse does not get everything under state law even if you’ve been married 40 years? That is, unless you have a will stating otherwise. Did you know that if you leave everything jointly with your second marriage spouse that your children will get nothing?
But here’s the thing. This cannot be solved during a pandemic. While Virginia has declared lawyers as “essential businesses”, we still have to maintain social distancing protocols: 6 feet between us, and strict sanitizing policies. (We are using disinfectant multiple times a day.)
I’m consulting with clients remotely by phone and by video conferencing. I have the video chat room and you don’t need anything more than a computer with a camera and a microphone. I’ve had clients insist that they must meet in person. Video conferencing is perfect for that and you don’t have to leave the comforts of home.
When it comes time for signing your documents however, maintaining social distancing becomes an issue. There are people in our building that are immunocompromised, and I cannot ask them to assist with document execution at this time. We will need all clients to have a person they can bring to signings as a disinterested witness. We will require everyone to maintain proper social distancing.
So it is my view, that although other attorneys are saying that now is the time to get your documents done, I advocate that you do what you can on your own, including downloading state recommended medical directives if possible. Virginia requires two disinterested witnesses. Florida and Texas also require two disinterested witnesses. Your neighbors can help you. But West Virginia requires a notary and two disinterested witnesses for its directive. A notary signature does not substitute for proper witnessing.
When this pandemic is over, and things settle back down, may I suggest that you call your attorney of choice and get your will, your medical directive, and your durable power of attorney completed so you have the peace of mind that they are done while the world is calm.
©Copyright 2020 Suzan D. Herskowitz