At-Home Estate Planning & Execution During Coronavirus

COVID-19 Lockdown? Create and Execute Your Estate Plan From Home

If putting your affairs in order is suddenly feeling urgent, you are not alone. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, you might be thinking it is time to contact a Boca Raton estate law attorney to shore up your estate planning documents and your health care documents, including designating a health care surrogate. But the idea of traveling to an office setting to interact with lawyers, notaries, and others in person might be holding you back. 

Ellis Law Group’s innovative social distancing estate planning protocols and Florida’s new laws allowing for virtual notaries pave the way for our clients to create and execute their estate planning documents without leaving their homes. 

Why Choose Ellis Law Group’s Shelter-in-Place Alternative?

Compared to other areas of the state, South Florida has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because such a large portion of our population is elderly and at-risk, even if businesses begin to reopen and social distancing restrictions are lifted in some areas, the South Florida population is likely to remain a hotspot, and the areas in large older and immune-compromised population — especially those in long-term care facilities — will remain on lockdown and at risk.

The increased risks has many people putting off getting their estate and medical planning affairs in order, while others have not reviewed or revised their documentation in years. If this sounds like you, ask yourself if your existing legal documents sufficiently answer these questions:  

  • Who will make medical decisions for me or for my children should I become ill or incapacitated? 
  • Who will manage my business affairs and see after my property should I become ill or incapacitated? 
  • After I pass away, who do I trust to act as the personal representative of my estate?
  • Do I have a will? Does my current will accurately represent my wishes regarding the disposition of my property and the care and custody of my minor children? 
  • Have I done everything I can to ensure the property I am leaving my heirs is well managed and protected?

If you think it is time to address these questions, but do not want to leave your home to meet with an attorney, witnesses, and notaries in person, you may be a candidate for our shelter-in-place alternative. 

Relying on Your Boca Raton Estate Law Attorney During Lockdown 

The first step is to schedule a telephone or video conference with an Ellis Law Group Boca Raton estate law attorney to determine what legal documents you need to create or update. Once that meeting has transpired, your lawyer will offer guidance on how to create or update and then execute documents that accurately reflect your wishes, ensuring that they meet all Florida requirements to be enforceable under the law.

What About Getting Documents Notarized While Under Quarantine?

Although recommended, having a Florida notary public witness and attest to the authenticity of signatures is not required for every estate planning document. For the documents that do require the participation of a Florida notary public, a new Florida law has made it possible to have estate-related documents notarized in a virtual setting beginning in mid-2020. 

Florida’s new remote online notarization rules took partial effect on January 1, 2020. However, as it now stands, notarizing estate planning documents using online notaries will not be allowed until July. That does not mean you cannot execute important documents from the safety of your home. Not all legally binding documents require a notary to be present during signing. For the ones that do, a Boca Raton estate law attorney from our office can offer ways to help without having to compromise social distancing safety.

Designating a Health Care Surrogate and Creating a Living Will From Home

A health care surrogate is the person you appoint to take care of all of your medical decisions if you become incapacitated and unable to make medical choices, deal with the insurance companies, and otherwise manage your health care needs. In this same instrument or a separate instrument — often called a living will — you can make your wishes known regarding end-of-life choices, like whether or not you would want to be put on long-term life support.

For the document appointing a health care surrogate to be valid, you have to sign the document in the presence of two witnesses. The person you are appointing as a surrogate cannot be a witness, and only one witness can be your spouse or blood relative (as long as they are not also the surrogate). There is no legal requirement that this document be notarized. 

You can work with your Boca Raton estate law attorney remotely to create a document that meets your wishes and then your lawyer will provide that document to you either via mail, courier service or electronically for you to print out. As long as you can assemble two people who meet the criteria for signing — and you can all maintain social distancing while the signing is taking place — you can appoint a health care surrogate and execute a living will without breaking quarantine.  

The same rules apply to designating a health care surrogate for any minor children, something more parents are realizing they should do in the face of the uncertainty brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Creating or Revising a Florida Will or Living Trust While in Quarantine

Like your living will, your Boca Raton estate attorney can work with you to create a Florida last will and testament or living trust remotely, consulting with you by phone, email, and using real-time face-to-face technology like Facetime or Zoom.

Under Florida law, wills and living trusts must be witnessed by two adults in the presence of the person signing. It is best if the witnesses do not have an interest in the estate — if an heir signs a witness, the will could be left vulnerable to challenge — but this is not an actual legal requirement. Therefore, while in quarantine, you could have any two competent adults you are sheltering in place with act as your witnesses, following social distancing behaviors while signing.

There is no legal requirement that any of the signatures be notarized at the time of signing for the will or living trust to be deemed valid in Florida, although it is usually recommended just as an added precaution against any future actions disputing them. 

Under normal circumstances, we recommend that each witness to a will execute a self-proving affidavit. This affidavit prevents the need for the witnesses to be called into court during probate to verify that they actually saw the will being signed. The self-proving affidavit does need to be notarized, however, which is a problem for many Florida residents today. 

As mentioned above, that will be changing starting July 1, 2020, when Florida starts allowing certified online notary publics to notarize estate planning documents via the internet. An Ellis Law Group Boca Raton estate law attorney can work with you to get your will executed now and then address the ways you might be able to bring in an online notary to complete a will with self-proving affidavits after July 1.

Executing Florida Powers of Attorney While Social Distancing

In the event you become unable to make important decisions — like how your children will be cared for, who will take over your financial affairs, and who will run your business —due to illness or incapacity, it is important to designate someone you trust to take over for you. This is accomplished by giving a trusted family member, friend or colleague your power of attorney

Under Florida law, in order to convey power of attorney to another, you must sign a document specifying the powers that are being conveyed before two witnesses who must also sign. The document must be executed in front of a notary public. Once the new rules take effect in July 2020, this can be done via the internet. Until then, if time is of the essence and you cannot meet with a notary in person, your Boca Raton estate law attorney can work with you to set up a system that comports with both CDC social distancing guidelines and Florida law. 

Contact a Boca Raton Estate Law Attorney to Take Care of Your Planning Concerns

If you are interested in exploring how to create estate planning documents that meet the requirements of Florida law and also keep you at a safe distance from others, please contact the Ellis Law Group Boca Raton estate planning attorneys. 

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