While most attorneys and law offices have been working remotely and have been subject to the Pennsylvania Order that nonessential places of business be closed, attorney organizations have been working closely with state government all along to allow urgent legal business to still take place.
At Marks Elder Law, staff has been working remotely for some weeks now, and the office has been closed for business to members of the public. We have become accustomed along with our clients to using videoconferencing technology that we’ve never had to use before.
Under first the revised Order, and now the shift to “Yellow Phase” flexibility in business operations in Allegheny County effective May 15th, lawyers and staff may now access physical offices on a limited basis as necessary to provide legal services that cannot practically be completed through the use of communication technology.
Estate planning and elder law attorneys deal with urgent legal issues every day by helping clients prepare and execute Wills, Powers of Attorney and Living Wills dealing with incapacity and end-of-life issues, handling guardianships, and working on behalf of patients In health care facilities and their families..
It bears repeating that everyone should make sure that their plans and arrangements are in order with up-to-date legal documents that say how you want your affairs to be handled, and by whom, if you become unable. Powers of Attorney and a Will represent a basic but comprehensive estate plan that everyone should have. If you need to make these plans for yourself or others, call today.
A big problem has been how to arrange to get these documents properly signed, witnessed and notarized, while the office is closed and in the era of social distancing. Ordinarily, all participants must gather and meet in person to do so. Witnesses must directly observe the document signers signing, the notary or an attorney must be present, etc.
The solution I’ve used most often recently is to arrange an outdoor “driveway signing” or “porch signing.” The document signers, witnesses and attorney or notary can then all be present, but out in plain air and not too close together, observing masking and social distancing protocols, with plenty of repeated hand sanitizing. In our firm we’ve accomplished document signings recently that were previously completely on hold.
The Commonwealth has issued new notary regulations allowing remote electronic or digital notarization. Even so, I believe many practitioners have found that even these somewhat relaxed requirements are still somewhat stringent and impractical. Moreover, documents executed through remote, online notarization face additional uncertainty as to whether they may still be more subject to legal challenge.. Our outdoor, fresh air signings with personal spacing and hygiene have filled the bill recently instead, and with office meetings now permitted again when needed, this problem should ease.
Individuals legal needs have not stopped during the crisis, and in some ways have of course increased instead. Consumers’ legal needs in the era of pandemic include, but are not limited to:
- Estate planning – preparing wills, trusts, powers of attorney, living wills, deeds, etc.
- Estate administration – winding up someone’s affairs after they have passed.
- Employment issues relating to paid sick leave, lost jobs, unemployment compensation, or other insurance benefits
- Debt and creditor issues, payment deferrals, and bankruptcy
- Leases and landlord-tenant dealings and disputes
- Liability for contagion and care facility mistreatment cases.
In our firm, we don’t handle all of these types of cases directly, but if we can’t help you, we can refer you to the right person who can.