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Estate planning can be done remotely

The reality of COVID-19 has forced many of us to contemplate our health, our mortality and our legacy. Suddenly, the need for a new or updated will or trust and a financial power of attorney as well as a current advanced care directive have become more compelling as this pandemic infiltrates our communities. Young parents now even consider a designation of guardians for their minor children.

Social distancing, lock-down orders, and working from home have interrupted our lives and businesses. During this unprecedented time, people’s need for urgent estate planning has increased, requiring attorneys to employ innovative methods of providing services. While many people have been afforded the time to reflect on making preparations for their lives and loved ones, many attorneys have quickly adapted alternative solutions to in-person operations by exploring remote meetings via phone or video conferencing, utilizing email communication, and implementing the remote execution of documents.

Currently, you may not be able to meet with an attorney in person. Even though State and Federal authorities have not mandated law firms to close, the Nevada State Bar advised attorneys to provide services to clients remotely. As such, the initial consultation between an attorney and client can be conducted on the phone or via a free web conferencing platform such as Zoom or Skype. Following the initial consultation, a retainer letter, questionnaire, and drafts of the documents can be exchanged via email or mail. At any time, the client and the attorney can meet by phone or videoconferencing to address any points.

Once the estate planning documents are prepared, they must be signed and notarized to become valid. Contrary to best social distancing practices, an estate plan signing can require up to six people together in close proximity around a conference table. This concern can be addressed with the online signing. While every estate planning signing should be approached on a case by case basis, oftentimes a notary that has received the certification to do so can perform an electronic and remote notarization, making in-person meetings unnecessary.

In certain circumstances, a client may be able to sign documents on their own under the instructions of the attorney. Sometimes, a mobile notary can be available to meet a client in the attorney’s office or at the client’s home. In such a situation, it is important to maintain social distancing and, if possible, to wear gloves and masks. Neighbors or friends can serve as witnesses while watching from a safe distance as well.

The documents that typically require witnesses, such as wills, can be especially problematic under current circumstances. Fortunately, Nevada, among a handful of other states, allows electronic wills that do not require witnesses and can be signed and notarized electronically and remotely. Electronic wills have been available since 2001 but, due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus, they are now becoming a more popular option.

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised the concerns of becoming severely ill or even passing away. Many law firms have noticed an increased demand for estate planning services. The need for social distancing resulted in the transformation of traditionally in-person services to remote arrangements. Estate planning, from the initial consultation to the execution of the documents, in most cases can now be completed over distance. During this uncertain time, one can create, update, and finalize their estate planning portfolio while observing social distancing rules and remaining safely at home throughout the process.

Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney practicing estate planning, family law, and workers’ compensation.