The pandemic has prompted many of our clients and friends to focus on their estate planning — finalizing Wills and estate planning documents that had been in progress, or just getting the planning process started with a new sense of urgency. We welcome the opportunity to serve our clients and help them meet their planning goals. But many ask: How will we work together when there are so many obstacles to meeting in person?
Our firm, like many businesses, has been working remotely since March, with plans in place to continue remote work for the foreseeable future. From the perspective of a Trusts & Estates attorney, there have been changes to our traditional practice — and a number of corresponding lessons learned.
Remote document execution. The biggest change to our practice has been the authorization to execute Wills and related estate planning documents remotely, instead of formal, in-person execution conferences. We have seamlessly replaced in-person meetings with Zoom calls, FaceTimes, and other video conferencing technology, and we have guided our clients who require assistance to understand and manage the technology.
In addition to remote document execution, we have also come to rely on e-mails and traditional phone calls to make up for the lack of in-person meetings. And optimal Wi-Fi and a good, all-in-one scanner/copier/printer are now home office necessities. All of these technologies provide us with the flexibility we need to continue to serve our clients effectively.
The newly virtual aspect of our practice does not appear to be going away any time soon. Currently, New York State Executive Order 202.55, issued August 5, 2020, which extended New York’s remote document execution procedures, is set to expire on September 4, 2020. Governor Cuomo’s initial Executive Orders 202.7 (audio-video notarization) and 202.14 (audio-video witnessing of estate planning documents) have already been extended several times during the pandemic, and we fully expect additional extensions. (Although we note that prior extensions have occurred on or about the expiration of current deadlines.)