Handling “group execution” of documents in light of coronavirus concerns

Legal document execution during coronavirus crisis

Estate planning documents typically require execution by the principal, as well as two witnesses and a notary. Absent a change in the statutes, there doesn’t appear to any way this can be accomplished “remotely,” with the parties separated at time of signing. Nonetheless, there are some common sense rules that can be followed, in light of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, to protect the health of parties as best as possible. The following rules were drafted from the perspective of minimizing a notary’s contact with others whose signatures he is notarizing. However, these rules can be applied more broadly to anyone participating in the document execution exercise:

1.  Eliminate physical contact as much as possible – do not shake hands.

2   Do not share pens. Do not place used pens back into supply.  Sanitize after usage or gift them.

3.  To the extent possible, keep a safe distance from all parties (minimum of 6 feet).

4.  Do not touch the identification – view it from the table top.

5.  Arrange the documents such that each document needing to be signed/notarized is grouped together. This will dramatically reduce the amount of time being spent together.

6.  Identify each page requiring a signature/notarial prior to the signature/notarial act and flag with a “sign here” or “sticky note.”

7.  In the case where an oath is required on any of the documents, the signature would need to be made in the presence of the notary who would also need to administer an oath or an affirmation. When multiple oaths are required the notary may administer one single oath for all of the documents, i.e., “Do you swear that the information on pages 1, 3, 5, and 9 is true so help you God?”

8. After positively identifying the principal and administering the oath, the notary may relocate to another room to complete the notarial certificates as the law does not require the certificates to be completed in the presence of the principal signer.

We hope that these guidelines will help you to stay safe and healthy while finalizing important estate planning documents.

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John A. Cocklereece, Jr.

John Cocklereece concentrates his practice on property tax appeals, business law, tax controversies, and estate planning and administration.
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