We’re writing this in the midst of a public health emergency the likes of which the world hasn’t seen in over 100 years. The shutdown of nonessential businesses, and the stay at home order by Governor Charlie Baker has caused widespread interruptions, disruptions and has affected everyone in the Commonwealth.
Given the nature of our practice, we are receiving calls from concerned clients and family members. We hear from home who have loved ones in facilities but can’t visit them and are concerned about the spread of the virus there. We are talking to many each day that are prioritizing long term care and estate planning.
As we always explain to clients and prospects, the basic legal tools that we use to help clients begin with legal documents: a power of attorney, health care directive, will and often trusts. The signing of these documents must conform to certain legal requirements. Most documents require signing in the presence of a notary public, while the will requires two witness and a notary public (The health care directive can be signed before two witnesses).
For the overwhelming majority of our clients the signings occur in our office. On occasion we visit clients at home or in the facilities where they reside if they cannot come to us.
When Governor Baker signed an executive order directing citizens to stay home and President Trump directed citizens to practice social distancing, we could not conduct these signings in the normal way. As a result, we temporarily postponed some signing appointments that had been scheduled already, and made alternate “social distancing signings” for others who felt that signing immediately was critical. This past week, Attorney Greta Atchinson conducted a no-touch signing in the parking lot, with the client in her car, the trustee in another car, and witnesses in yet another car (Greta had an umbrella and her notary stamp). Adding to the difficulty, was the cold, pouring rain. Greta hopes this is the last of the parking lot signings she has to perform in this pandemic. It was critical to our client that she sign her estate plan, and we’re committed to helping our clients.
For the time being we have severely restricted in person meetings. This is a must for the safety of our clients and employees and in compliance with the law. But for how much longer? As I write this President Trump has extended the social distancing requirement for another 30 days until April 30 and Governor Bakers’s order has been extended until May. Medical experts believe we have not reached the peak of the pandemic yet and this could take us through the summer and beyond.
We do know, unfortunately, that the spread of Covid-19 does not mean that the need for long term care stops. Our clients and their families still have to solve the problem of getting care for loved ones and paying for it. Which leads me back to the issue of document signing. We do not know how long it will take to get back to “business as usual” so we must look for an alternative so we can help clients navigate the long term care process.
Governor Cuomo has temporarily modified New York’s law to permit signing of legal documents to be done via video conferencing. A bill “An Act Relative to Remote Notarization During COVID-19 State of Emergency” has been proposed in Massachusetts in both houses of the legislature to allow video conferencing and notarization, but it has not yet been passed. We ask that you contact your representatives and urge them to pass Bill SD 2882 and HD 4999. Find your legislator here: https://malegislature.gov/search/findmylegislator and let them know you support remote notarization during this difficult time.
We are hopeful that the legislature will take action in the next week to pass these bills so that people can safely update and establish vital legal documents.
Questions or Concerns? Email Education@DSullivan.com. We are here to help you and your family.
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