PLANNING, PREPARING AND SIGNING ESTATE PLANS DURING COVID-19

Georgia has become one of the recent additions to states implementing a shelter in place or stay at home order at least until April 24th.  It is my assumption that order will likely be extended into May.  This pandemic has heightened many clients’ interest in completing their estate plans and wills. I have received many questions from clients and prospective clients about the execution of estate planning documents during this time while complying with current state laws and the Governor’s order to social distance.  Below are our current responses to common questions.

 

QUESTION: ARE YOU TAKING ON NEW CLIENTS?

ANSWER:  Yes. I am happy to accept new clients or work with existing clients who are interested in setting up or revising their estate plan. I am currently available to meet with clients virtually from the safety and convenience of their own home, while also complying with the orders from the Georgia Governor and local authorities.

 

QUESTION: WHAT IS REQUIRED TO EXECUTE A WILL IN GEORGIA?

ANSWER: Many states are working on electronic or remote signing laws. But in Georgia, the law today requires, “A will shall be in writing and shall be signed by the testator or by some other individual in the testator’s presence and at the testator’s express direction. A testator may sign by mark or by any name that is intended to authenticate the instrument as the testator’s will.

(b)  A will shall be attested and subscribed in the presence of the testator by two or more competent witnesses. O.C.G.A. Section 53-4-20.  This requires the Testator to see or understand the witnesses are signing.  This can be accomplished and still comply with social distancing.

 

QUESTION: WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR DRAFTING AND WITNESSING WILLS DURING COVID-19

ANSWER: There are several steps in estate planning process:

 

Initial meeting. For the first meeting, we can talk over the phone or use FaceTime or Zoom to host a video conference.

Information gathering. I use a detailed Estate Planning Questionnaire to help gather the necessary and relevant information. I will email or mail you my questionnaire, which can be completed as a fillable-PDF or you can handwrite the information. You can either email or mail the completed questionnaire back to me.

Document drafting. I will then take your information and complete a draft of the documents. I can securely email you the draft documents for your review.

Signing. I will ensure that appropriate social distancing of at least 6 feet is used at all times. There are several options for the actual signing. For example, the clients may be on the other side of a glass door or window, in the safety and comfort of their own home. If a glass separation is not possible, we can meet on a driveway or front porch, place the documents in a central location, and essentially take turns signing. The client signs while the witnesses are a safe distance apart, then the client steps back and the witnesses each safely sign.  We just completed this process for a couple in Douglas county.

 

QUESTION: WHAT OTHER DOCUMENTS ARE IMPORTANT?

ANSWER: A full estate plan is more than a simple will. Depending on your circumstances, it could also include a Revocable Living Trust. I recommend that everyone, no matter your family situation, should have the following in place:

Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will: In Georgia, this is known as an Advanced Healthcare Directive. This allows you to select an agent to make and communicate healthcare decisions if you are not able to do so yourself. It also allows you to instruct your agent about your specific desires and preferences for end of life care or prolonged unconsciousness.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney: This allows you to appoint an agent to help with your financial affairs, including paying your bills, managing your money, and talking to your banks and financial institutions.

 

QUESTION: HOW BEST TO CONTACT ME?

ANSWER: Like millions of other Americans, I am largely working remotely now. But I am available by phone or text at 770-685-9501, or by email at sfaulkner@wsfaulknerlaw.com. Clients also get my personal cell phone.  Please contact me to help with your planning needs.