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Horizon Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How Do I Get My Will and Other Estate-Planning Documents Signed if I Can't Leave the House?

Although this situation could change at any time, California law does not currently (as of April 15, 2020), allow remote online notarization (RON) of documents. More than 20 other states allow RON, but California has not passed previously proposed attempts to allow RON. A California estate-planning attorney can answer your questions about the status of this situation and offer you options for getting your will, living trust, and additional estate-planning documents signed.

The Proposed Remote Online Notarization Act

The Remote Online Notarization Act, introduced in the California Senate on February 21, 2020, would allow a California notary public to apply for registration as a remote online notary public. This bill has not yet passed as of April 15, 2020.

If passed, the bill will take effect immediately because of the urgency of the COVID-19 situation. The Act would be a temporary measure and would only remain in effect during the California governor’s declared state of emergency. As of the writing of this article, the proposed bill is in committee.

The Importance of Estate Planning Documents During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people feel motivated to get a will or living trust, a power of attorney, healthcare directive, and other estate planning documents written and signed. If a person contracts the virus, he could die within a few days. He could need medical treatment in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and be unable to prepare or sign documents for himself.

He might want to nominate someone to make medical or financial decisions for him if he becomes incapacitated from the virus. If he does not survive the illness, he would want to have a voice in how his assets get distributed to his loved ones and who will raise his children.

Current Options for Getting Documents Notarized

Getting estate planning papers signed when there are restrictions on leaving the house can be a challenge. The California Secretary of State suggests that people use a mobile notary, but doing so will expose the notary, witnesses, and signer of the documents to a risk of contracting the virus.

Even if people manage to maintain a six-foot distance from each other, multiple people will have to come into contact with the papers, inkpad for the thumbprint in the notary journal, the journal itself, the government-issued identification, and the pens. Most of these problems can get mitigated with appropriate planning.

Another option is to use a notary at a bank, UPS store, or another packing and shipping service. These places are still open because they are essential services. Some of these entities provide notary services, but you should call ahead to be certain.

Ways Around the Standard Rules

Although California law does not allow remote witnessing or notarization of a will, you do not need witnesses or a notary for a handwritten (holographic) will. Every word on the document must be handwritten by the testator. You cannot have printed or typed words on the paperwork. You cannot handwrite the will for the testator to sign. An attorney can, however, print out a will and have the testator copy the entire document by hand, and then sign it.

Another way to get around the current restrictions in California is to use a properly qualified online notary in another state if that person’s state allows RON of documents. California Civil Code Section 1189(b) allows this means of remote notarization of documents.

Finally, a person could write or update a living trust instead of a will. Trusts do not need witnesses unless they will transfer real property.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, there could be a change to these procedures and options without notice. You might want to work with a California estate-planning attorney to get the documents you need to protect yourself and your family and to make sure the papers comply with California law. Contact the experienced elder law attorneys at Horizon Law today.


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