New Jersey Governor Murphy has just made it easier to complete your estate planning during this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many law firms, like ours, are offering Zoom meetings and phone consultations to comply with the social distancing measures. We email and mail documents to our clients. However, the one remaining obstacle was how to get the documents notarized.
Now, Governor Murphy has signed legislation that was sought by the legal bar to allow real estate closing, estate planning, and other legal transactions to move forward during the coronavirus pandemic. The new law allows public notaries and attorneys to notarize documents through electronic communications. This allows clients to sign their estate planning documents at home or even in a hospital or a nursing home with an attorney watching through Facetime, Zoom, or any other video service. The notary or attorney must record the signing and save the recording for ten years. The documents will also note that the notarization was done remotely.
Not all legal documents require notarization and some require a witness as well. For instance, a Last Will and Testament requires two witnesses but not a notary. However, a notary is required to make the Will self-proving, which means that the Will can be admitted to probate without the witnesses needing to be tracked down to attest to the signing. Health care directives require a notary or two witnesses, although it is standard procedure to have both. We have been recommending that our clients ask family members or neighbors who are not the designated health representative to witness the document from a distance of six feet.
Now, clients can have legally binding documents even if they do not have anyone available to witness. Of course, we still recommend having witnesses where possible. Financial powers of attorney are the one basic estate planning document that cannot be executed without a notary. We recommend witnesses as well but only a notary is legally required for a POA. This meant that for several clients who were too at risk, we had to delay signing this essential document, even when their likelihood of needing it was greatest. Thanks to advocacy from the estate planning and elder law bar, we can now proceed to execute these documents remotely to protect our most vulnerable clients.
If you have any questions about this post or any other related matters, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For other topics related to the coronavirus, visit our Coronavirus Thought Leadership Connection.
The information contained in this post may not reflect the most current developments, as the subject matter is extremely fluid and constantly changing. Please continue to monitor this site for ongoing developments. Readers are also cautioned against taking any action based on information contained herein without first seeking advice from professional legal counsel.