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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Doing Your Estate Plan During the Pandemic

Q: Can I make a will during the coronavirus pandemic?

No one likes to think about dying. That’s one of the popular reasons people postpone having their last will and testament drawn up, according to New York and New Jersey estate planning attorneys.

A global pandemic can change all that.

The coronavirus, also known as COVID–19, is causing incomprehensible losses of human life across the globe. Many US citizens are locked down or are under shelter-in-place orders. Unfortunately, the number of victims contracting the illness is so great and the shortages of personal protective equipment like masks and gowns is so extreme that victims who are hospitalized are not able to have any visitors. Those who succumb to the illness are dying alone and cannot even have customary funerals due to social distancing restrictions and the contagious nature of the virus.

Suddenly, people are scrambling to get their estate planning documents in order. Those documents often include the last will and testament and/or trust agreements. They also often include powers of attorney, healthcare proxies, living wills. These documents—especially crucial to have in times like these--have strict rules on how they must be executed, witnessed and/or notarized in order to be deemed valid.

Is a handwritten will or oral will valid?

If basic will requirements are not followed precisely, a last will and testament may be rejected by the court or, if accepted, may be later deemed invalid in a will contest.

New York State does not recognize handwritten, also known as holographic, wills. The one exception is if it is made by a member of the armed forces during a period of armed conflict and is written entirely in the hand of the testator or maker. Wills must meet witnessing and other requirements as well. New York does not recognize oral wills.

New Jersey also has certain witnessing requirements for wills and does not recognize oral wills. Holographic wills may be considered if “the testator’s material provisions and signature are in that individual’s handwriting”. But beware of do-it-yourself wills--they are far more likely than attorney-drafted and supervised wills to be rejected by the court or defeated in a will contest by a disgruntled or disinherited heir.

The way these documents are typically executed in non-pandemic times has been modified by executive orders in many states to allow for remote notarization and/or witnessing of these important documents during the height of the pandemic. So, there is no reason to delay estate planning, even during the pandemic.

If you need assistance with an initial estate plan or would like to modify an existing one, the estate planning attorneys at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York, and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients in both states in all aspects of estate planning and estate administration.


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