From Our “Ask a Question” Mailbag: “My question is about notarizing estate planning documents. How can I get my documents notarized during the Corona Virus lockdown?”
Notarizing Estate Planning Documents During the Corona Virus Lockdown
Under normal circumstances in Pennsylvania, a notary needs to be physically present and observe the execution of certain estate planning documents such as powers of attorney and temporary guardianship. The law does not require that wills and advance health care directives be notarized, but it is commonly accepted to be best practice. As we all know, we are not living in normal circumstances. Many of us wonder: how can I get my affairs in order and still observe social distancing rules? The need for physical presence is especially worrisome for those in nursing homes or hospitals where no visitors are allowed.
Temporary Suspension of the Physical Presence Requirement.
On April 2, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of State issued a temporary suspension of the physical presence requirement for Pennsylvania notaries. For the time being, Pennsylvania notaries are now allowed to use approved audio-visual communication technology instead of being physically present. The rule does require the notary become an approved Pennsylvania e-notary. For the first time, notarizing estate planning documents can be done remotely.
Sorting Out the Details.
Although the Department of State’s order is helpful, there are still issues to resolve. For instance, what about witnesses? A financial power of attorney is only valid under Pennsylvania law if signed in the presence of a notary as well as two witnesses. Unfortunately, at this juncture, it is unclear whether the witnesses need to be physically present or can “witness” the signing over a video chat application like Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime. The good news is that the attorneys and staff at Klenk Law are ready and willing to work with you to figure out a way to meet with you to execute documents while maintaining social distance properly.
In Pennsylvania, an attorney can witness a signature, and then take the document to a notary for normalization. Pennsylvania is the only state that offers this option. New Jersey deems attorneys notaries. So, in both cases, if you can gather two witnesses, then one of our lawyers can come to your location, watch you, and the witnesses sign the documents, then take them to a notary (PA) or notarize them (NJ). Gathering two witnesses and a notary or attorney to watch you sign your documents requires some flexibility in the age of the Corona Virus. For example, I oversaw the signing of clients in the lobby of their condominium. All those participating stood apart, taking turns signing. Everyone wore gloves, masks, and brought their own pens. I took the documents back tot he office, where they sat for two days before the notary notarized my signature.
In case of an emergency, options do exist.
In Conclusion: Notarizing Estate Planning Documents.
I hope you found helpful this short article about Notarizing Estate Planning Documents during the Coronavirus Lockdown. Also, I have included some links for more detailed information. Contact us. Let our Estate Planning Lawyers walk you through this confusing process. Furthermore, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation.
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Attorney Andrew Barron wrote this article.