Few people enjoy thinking about end of life decisions. As a result, estate planning is frequently pushed to the bottom of to-do lists. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the world into an unprecedented time of uncertainty. During the COVID-19 pandemic, estate planning may offer peace of mind to individuals concerned about how to provide for the welfare of their families and loved ones in the event they get sick.
Although mandated policies of social distancing have been issued in Virginia prohibiting in-person meetings, much of the process of drafting and revising estate documents can be completed remotely through video and phone conferencing.
The three documents you should consider when estate planning are (1) a will and/or trust designed to distribute your assets; (2) a financial power of attorney which designates someone to help manage your financial affairs if you are unable to do so; and, arguably most importantly at this time, (3) a medical power of attorney or medical directive instructing someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. If drafted correctly, these documents are designed to be durable and will last into the foreseeable future and past the pandemic.
While the preparation and revision of your estate plan can be done remotely, in many states executing these documents must be done in person. In today’s world, almost everything can be done online; unfortunately, the laws regarding estate planning are somewhat behind the times. The Uniform Electronic Wills Act was drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws which approved and recommended the UEWA for enactment in all states in July of 2019.1 The purpose of the UEWA is to allow electronic execution of wills while still maintaining the safeguards that the law provides for the execution of tangible wills.2
Today, only a handful of states have adopted laws allowing for the electronic signing of wills including Nevada, Arizona, Indiana, and Florida.3 While the Virginia General Assembly has considered bills authorizing electronic execution of wills, it has yet to pass such a law.4 Currently, the law in Virginia provides that wills must be signed in the presence of two witnesses.5 Additionally, powers of attorney and wills should be signed in the presence of a notary public.6
While COVID-19 may be just the impetus needed to propel the laws surrounding estate planning into the 21st century, only time will tell. In the meantime, given that the guidelines on social distancing are changing daily, executing estate documents in person could prove challenging. This leaves many people wondering if they have pushed estate planning off for too long.
If you are thinking of drafting or revising your estate plan but don’t know where to start, Surovell Isaacs & Levy PLC can help. We have several experienced Wills Trusts and Estates attorneys who will work with you remotely to devise and draft your estate documents, including helping you execute your documents in a safe way which aligns with regulations and current guidelines surrounding COVID-19. Call us today at 703-251-5400, contact Kaley Duncan at Kduncan@surovellfirm.com, or contact us today on our website to schedule a consultation.
1 See Prefatory Note, Unif. Electronic Wills Act Prefatory, Nat’l Conf. Comm’rs on Unif. State Laws 128 (July 12-18, 2019).
2 See id. at 2.
3 See id.
4 See H.D. 1643, 2017 Leg. (Va. 2017).
5 Va. Code Ann. § 64.2-403(C).
6 See Va. Code Ann. § 64.2-1603; see also Va. Code Ann. § 64.2-452.
Posted in: Estate planning/Trusts