In early April, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner issued an emergency rule to establish a temporary alternative to in-person notarization of documents. This executive order eliminates the need for signees to appear in person before a notary in order for a document to be notarized. Similar orders have been enacted in states such as Illinois and New York.
The rule will only be in place while W.V. remains in a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Once the governor’s social distancing mandates have been lifted, the emergency order will be reversed. This measure has been taken to protect notaries and the public from unnecessary exposure to infection.
The order includes specific provisions for video and audio conferencing, so the notary can witness the signing of documents. Notaries are further required to record the video and retain the video file for a certain amount of time. Once the signee has signed the document, the document is then sent to the notary along with proof of identity for placement of the official stamp of seal.
This temporary allowance for remote notarization is particularly important during the nationwide shelter-in-place recommendation because, for many, there is a heightened need to obtain legally binding documents.
As cases of COVID-19 have passed the one-million mark across the United States and with death rates over fifty-thousand, people have faced the stark reality that the extremely contagious virus might reach their doorstep. Attorneys have increasingly been called upon to assist in estate planning. Measures such as the remote notarization rule have made it easier for people to allay worry over difficult end-of-life decisions without having to increase their personal risk of infection by doing so.
It is also important to note that the outside possibility of an untimely death is not the only reason to establish an estate plan amidst the pandemic. It is statistically true that most individuals who contract COVID-19 will survive the virus. What is more likely than death for many is the real possibility of becoming incapacitated by the illness for weeks. Ventilated patients across the country have been kept in medically-induced comas. In these instances, some elements of one’s estate plan become quite relevant. If the patient has designated a financial power of attorney and health care power of attorney, both health care providers and family members have less to worry about. The same goes for living wills or advance directives. And while not always necessary, a waiver of HIPAA rights ensures one’s health information is shared openly with designated people.
At Wooton Davis Hussell and Johnson, LLC. our attorneys possess many years of experience in helping people plan for the unexpected. Contact Us to inquire about drafting an estate plan.